Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) recently examined the brains of ten deceased dementia patients and revealed an unexpected commonality: when compared with samples from people without dementia, these ten brains all had elevated levels of Porphyromonas gingivalis, a bacterium which usually causes gum disease.

The findings indicate a link between poor dental health and Alzheimer’s disease.

These bacteria typically live in the mouth yet can enter the bloodstream during daily activities such as eating, chewing, brushing. Dental procedures and surgeries may increase the risk of bacterial mobility as oral bleeding indicates exposed capillaries. When travelling through the blood, it is possible that these bacteria can then enter the brain, researchers say.

Once inside the brain, P. gingivalis may stimulate an immune response, and this line of defense can release chemicals that trigger the death of neurons. Cell death within the brain can cause symptoms such as confusion and memory loss, which are frequently rolled together to define dementia, a primary symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.

While the researchers at UCLan have stated that the results from their study are definitely significant, it remains to be determined if the presence of the bacterium is a cause or a result of neuronal degradation. According to the website for the Alzheimer’s Society, patients who suffer from dementia are often prescribed antidepressants, antipsychotics, and sedatives, and dry mouth is a prominent side effect of these medications. The correlation between dry mouth and an increased risk of oral bacterial infection is well established. The case may be that patients with dementia are simply more susceptible to infection and thus experience an accel

erated progression of the disease post-diagnosis.

Previous studies have linked dementia to other microscopic invaders, such as Herpes simplex virus type 1, and many studies are showing increased correlations between poor dental hygiene and other health concerns, such as heart disease. Researchers at UCLan and elsewhere urge people to understand that these links are far from conclusive, and that the best preventive care remains what it has always been: a healthy diet, regular checkups at the dentist and daily brushing and flossing. Join healtheo360’s Alzheimer’s Support Group to learn more about the condition and tips on caregiving.