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
Sheree Whatley says
Great article! Oral hygiene is probably much more important that people realise. There has also been research linking poor oral health to heart disease.
My husband is CEO of a start up company which sells a toothpaste backed by over 10 years of research from Queen Mary University London which is a game changer. It’s the only toothpaste to have been approved by the Oral Health Foundation’s expert panel for sensitivity relief and remineralisation. It’s called BioMin and you can read all about it on http://www.biomin.co.uk.
Patrick Murphy says
I had a shock about 5 years ago when my dentist referred me to the specialist to discuss my gums. She said that I had
receeding gums and I needed to look after them much better than I was. She started me on interdental brushes and I haven’t looked back since. They are quick and easy to use and for me so much better than flossing although supposedly you are still required to floss in between the teeth. However my main concern is keeping the gums clean. All following check ups have been fine.
Susan Saunders says
Good news! Thanks, Patrick
Have there been any studies with people who have had dentures for a long time? Eg my mum and dad had the same diet and lifestyle since they were 20. dad has had dentures since he was about the same age mum not. she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 62 and he is going strong at 86 .
Susan Saunders says
That’s a really good question, Pam. I wonder if any studies have been done. Will look into it!
Ann Rodgers says
We got a water flosser for Christmas and really like it. I is much easier and quicker than string flossing and leaves the gums feeling really clean. It is more expensive, but was in the sale, so better value.
Susan Saunders says
Oooh interesting, Ann. I hadn’t heard of water flossing before – will check it out! Thank you.
Diana Studer says
I’m hoping dental floss is adequate
(don’t to add more recyclable waste)
Gaynor Davis says
Hi Susan, Just reading your post about the connection between gum disease and dementia. I was recommended inter-dental brushes about 5 years ago and have had healthy gums ever since. Love them!! They don’t cause so much of a pollution /throw-away problem because I wash them carefully and use them again.
In Australia in the 1950’s women who had been through childbirth were deemed to have unsound teeth and had all of their teeth removed. What a barbaric practice. Both my mother-in-law and my mother had the same treatment. My mother is now 90 years old and although she doesn’t have dementia, she has a heart condition.
When my children had braces, we bought them a “water pic”, which was like a tooth pick but sprayed water. They liked it and thankfully had clean teeth and healthy gums.
Susan Saunders says
Thanks so much Gaynor. We love inter-dental brushes! And can’t believe that women in Australia had their teeth removed!