When multiple studies link oral hygiene to dementia we need to take notice. Yesterday, researchers revealed they’d found a bacteria associated with chronic gum disease in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. That bacteria secretes a toxic protein, gingipain, which appears to destroy brain neurons. It also increases build up of amyloid beta, which forms the plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s.
This doesn’t mean that the gum disease bacteria causes Alzheimer’s. Correlation does not prove causation, as we say frequently. But previous studies have also linked the two conditions. One showed that people with both mild to moderate cognitive impairment and gum disease experienced a quicker rate of decline compared to those without gum disease. And a Taiwanese study showed that people who’d suffered chronic periodontitis for at least 10 years were 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
CARING FOR A LOVED ONE WITH DEMENTIA, AND THEIR TEETH
People with Alzheimer’s Disease also tend to have poor oral hygiene. One of the first warning signs that my mum was suffering from dementia was the state of her teeth. Her previously scrupulous routine of oral hygiene fell by the wayside as her memory deteriorated. It took me a long time (too long, I feel guilty about it to this day) to realise that she was no longer cleaning her teeth properly. By the time the reality had sunk in, her teeth were in a shocking state. I spent week after week driving her to the dentist to have rotten teeth removed and partial dentures made.
As a side note, if you’re caring for someone who’s been diagnosed with dementia, or you suspect may be suffering from cognitive decline, check their teeth and get them to the dentist. Chances are they may have forgotten to book a check up or may not be cleaning their teeth regularly.
HOW TO LOOK AFTER YOUR TEETH
By coincidence, I went to the dental hygienist yesterday – never a pleasant experience, but very important. After she’d given my teeth a good scrub, and reassured me that I don’t have gum disease, she asked me if I’m using interdental brushes. I’d never heard of them! Am I the last person on earth to be using these little wonder-brushes? If, like me, you’ve missed out on this vital bit of dental kit then it would be worth talking to your dentist about them. They’re designed to clean those tiny gaps between our teeth and help reduce the risk of gum disease. They come in wide array of colours and sizes to fit every gap – so now I have a rainbow-hued selection in my bathroom. Adding this step to brushing my teeth and flossing is a bit of a faff, to be honest, but I’m determined to give it a go.
Looking after our teeth is such a simple action and could make a difference to our Alzheimer’s risk. Do share this post with friends and family so they can take action too.
Photo: Ne¾a Èerin