Periodontal Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease

Senior woman smiling in a dental chair

A huge number of medical conditions are associated with old age, periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease among them. But age itself is not always the reason these issues develop. Correlations have been found between periodontal disease and AD, which persist when controlling for age and sex. Although the cause is not apparent, the trend itself is clear: those with more serious gum disease are at a greater risk of also having Alzheimer’s.

The effects of Alzheimer’s on your dental health

A fairly obvious explanation is that those with AD are less capable of caring for their teeth. While this may not account for the entire correlation, it does appear to be a factor. People with dementia of any kind are likely to forget oral hygiene, or to do it poorly. Where possible, they should be assisted with tasks of this type.

The effect your dental health may have on Alzheimer’s

While it is less obvious that periodontal disease should be a factor in AD, researchers are beginning to believe that the relationship may go both ways. Several possible mechanisms have been suggested, including the following:

  • Oral bacteria reaching the brain. The bacteria responsible for periodontal disease has been known to spread to other parts of the body, particularly in patients with severe periodontal disease. It is possible that these pathogens might damage the brain, leading to the mental deterioration associated with AD.
  • Increased inflammation. While swelling is a very effective part of the body’s defenses, it can backfire and cause damage to the body. Either the inflammatory agents involved in periodontal disease may affect the brain, or perhaps extended periodontal disease may cause a chronic inflammatory condition that causes swelling in the brain itself.
  • Increased risk of stroke. Stroke itself is not an identified risk factor for AD, but it does have some correlation to the severity of AD symptoms.
  • Weight loss/wasting. Long-term periodontal disease can lead to a significant decrease in body weight, which may have an adverse effect on the brain.

Research to be done

While the correlation between AD and periodontal disease is well established, the cause remains unknown. Research into this problem is currently under way, as well as into Alzheimer’s in general. In the meantime, many other adverse health effects have been associated with periodontal disease. If you are suffering from gum disease, we strongly recommend seeking treatment from your periodontist in Phoenix, the Arizona Periodontal Group.

Senior couple eating corn on the cob.

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