By dentist Dr. Richard Mitchell
Alzheimers gum disease - A link between Alzheimers and gum disease has been detected, according to the British Journal "New Scientist".
If proven, this will add another BIG reason to take your daily brushing and flossing seriously.
This is BIG NEWS in the dental and medical worlds, and you should sit up at take notice. This is VERY important!
Alzheimers disease is responsible for 70% of all cases of dementia; but we don't know what causes it - until now.
Dementia is now the 5th biggest cause of death worldwide - a big reason to take this breakthrough seriously.
Alzheimers results in progressive memory loss, usually over 10 years or so, and is catastrophic for both the person who has it as well as their family and loved ones.
The condition appears to involve the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain. It had been supposed that the build-up of these protein plaques was responsible for causing memory loss.
Vast sums of money have gone into researching how to tackle this amyloid plaque build-up, developing drugs that break it down. Unfortunately, this line of treatment does not work.
In 2016, researchers discovered that the sticky amyloid protein plaques in the brains of Alzheimers patients is actually part of the body's defense against bacteria. At that time, it was still believed that the plaques were the cause of the problem.
Several research teams since then have concentrated on detecting the bacteria involved in gum disease within the brain of Alzheimers patients. They have found that the bacterium p. gingivalis invades and inflames the brain regions affected by Alheimers.
Researchers from several institutes have reported finding 2 toxic enzymes that p. gingivalis uses to feed on human tissue in 96 per cent of human Alzheimers brain samples.
These protein-degrading enzymes are called "gingipains". The evidence is that the bacteria p. gingivalis invades the brain, and it's not there because Alzheimers already exists; it"s there because it's the CAUSE of Alzheimers.
When research teams gave the gum disease bacteria to mice, it resulted in brain infection, protein plaque build-up, and brain damage in areas of the brain normally affected by Alzheimers.
We don't know HOW the bacteria gets into the brain, but there are several possible routes. Your mouth normally hosts a diverse and stable bacterial colony, but when dental plaque builds up under the gum edge, it can form pockets where p. gingivalis can thrive.
The inflammation and toxins caused by the bacteria can damage the lining of your mouth and allow them to get into your bloodstream. Also, any damage to the lining of your mouth from eating hard foods or over-brushing might also allow bacteria from your mouth into your blood.
It might also be possible for the bacteria to get into the cranial nerves near the mouth, and migrate down to nerve sheath towards the brain over several years.
Once in the brain, the bacteria may cause damage either by triggering the release of amyloid proteins, or by attacking the brain tissue directly.
Some scientists involved in Alzheimers research warn that alternative evidence points to genetics as being the main factor. That means that your genes may decide whether you are susceptible to the bacteria invading your brain, or not.
The good news in the Alzhemers gum disease connection is that effective treatments may be possible.
The first line of defense is obviously preventing gum disease in the first place, by correct brushing as well as careful flossing. Read more about this HERE.
In addition, drug firm Cortexyme is hoping to stop or even reverse Alzheimers using molecules that it has developed to block gingipains. In 2018 the company reported that it's best molecules had passed safety testing in humans, and had been shown to enter the brain. It also improved symptoms in people with Alzheimers.
The company also plans to test the drug against gum disease itself. A vaccine against gum disease would be very welcome - and if it prevents Alzheimers as well it will be amazing.
We don't know yet if bacterial infection of the brain by gum-disease causing bacteria is the sole cause of Alzheimers, in genetically susceptible people, or if there may be other factors involved. But most researchers agree that this is a very important development in the battle against Alzheimers.
Alzheimers gum disease connections may prove to be more complicated, but the discovery that gum disease bacteria are involved is a huge step.
updated January 2020.
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