By Sandi Ganshaw, RDH, MS
In the Spring of 2005, as part of our requirement for the Dental Hygiene program, we were given the assignment to present an informal table top presentation using oral communication and visual media to inform/clarify material on a specific topic. My topic of interest was on the systemic effects of gum disease. My research included effects of oral bacteria and diabetes, pre-term births and heart disease. At the time, much of the information was speculation, correlation but not specifically causative.
A recent study published in the journal Science Advances uncovered a potential link between the bacteria P. gingivalis, (the bacteria associated with gum disease) and Alzheimer’s. Researchers analyzed samples of saliva, spinal fluid and brain tissue from both living and deceased patients and found evidence of P. gingivalis. Also, a toxic enzyme, Gingipains, secreted by the bacteria was found in 96% of 53 brain samples. Tests on mice confirmed these specific bacteria could migrate from the mouth to the brain and that gingipains destroyed brain neurons.
Although the study results only add to the evidence supporting the link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, more research in needed to understand how the bacteria may play a role in the development and progression of the disease.
This study stated that more than half of the U.S population age 30 and over had some form of periodontal disease. Prevalence increases to 68% for those over 65 years of age. It encouraged older adults and other at-risk individuals to maintain diligent oral care and promptly address gingival and periodontal disease to help mitigate Alzheimer’s risk. Routine brushing, flossing, and visiting a dentist/hygienist who can help to identify and offer treatment as needed.