A bacteria associated with gum disease has been linked to a greater risk for developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a new British study. The findings pinpoint the importance of maintaining good dental care.
Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry isolated the bacteria Porphyromonas gingivalis in brain cells donated by 10 patients with dementia and 10 who didn't have the condition. P. gingivalis was found only in the brain cells of those with dementia.
Bacteria from chronic gum disease can enter the bloodstream easily through everyday activities such as eating, chewing and tooth brushing, but it's most likely to move through the body following invasive dental treatment.
The research team hypothesized that when P. gingivalis reaches the brain, it triggers the immune system to release chemicals that can kill neurons. That can lead to changes in the brain that's typical of Alzheimer's disease, which is characterized in part by mental confusion and deteriorating memory.
Researchers from UCLan have also worked with the University of Florida where laboratory animals have exhibited evidence of the P.gingivalis bacteria reaching the brain when gum disease exists.
Health links to dental care
The UCLan findings are part of a body of research that has shown how gum disease can create inflammation in the body that is linked to such conditions as diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, blood disorders, impaired immunity, bacterial pneumonia and possibly heart disease.
However, the latest study showed a bacterial link only to people who have Alzheimer's or those with a predisposition to developing the disease, not the general population. Stjohn Crean, Ph.D., dean of the UCLan School of Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education, said the bacteria could also make an existing condition of Alzheimer's worse.
Sim Singhrao, Ph.D., a senior research fellow at UCLan, said that as the research progresses, the scientists are hoping to identify P. gingivalis as a biomarker through a blood test to predict the development of Alzheimer's in people who are at risk for the disease.
The research bolsters the importance of good oral health and making regular visits to the dentist to maintain healthy teeth and gums. Too often, families aren't able to continue treatment because of the high cost of dental insurance. As an alternative, a discount dental plan is more affordable by providing many dentist services at significantly reduced prices.
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