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Periodontal disease – is the infection and inflammation of the gums and other supporting tissues of the teeth caused by oral bacteria. While periodontal disease is considered a localized infection that affects the teeth, gums and surrounding oral tissues, it can also have dramatic negative effects on a person’s overall health. Recent research shows there is a connection between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Periodontal inflammation has been shown to be  associated with inflammation in the brain that increases the risk for cognitive dysfunctions linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and the 6th leading cause of death in America today. Approximately five million Americans have this progressive condition that involves loss of cognitive function and short term memory. Alzheimer’s disease appears o be on the rise in the United States with more and more cases being diagnosed each year. The most common risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease include old age, heredity and family history. Most of the patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease also have periodontal disease. This has led researchers to believe that there is a connection between these two disease states.

Periodontal Inflammation = Increased Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease?

Periodontal disease increases the risk of developing the cognitive disorder linked to Alzheimer’s disease. According to recent studies conducted to find out the causal relationship between these two conditions, people with periodontal inflammation face an increased risk of having lower cognitive functions compared to those without periodontal inflammation. The risk increases as the level of inflammation increases. Researchers believe that periodontal disease also causes an increased decline in  cognitive functions in people with already declining cognitive functions.

In 2005, a group of researchers noticed an increased presence of antibodies and inflammatory chemicals linked to periodontal disease in patients with Alzheimer’s disease compared to those of healthy individuals. Alzheimer’s disease patients also showed higher levels of periodontal bacteria in their brains. Researchers believe that when the oral periodontal bacteria multiply, they enter the blood stream and travel to the brain, where they cause infections and damage there.

researchers think there are three possible ways that periodontal disease can lead to Alzheimer’s:

1. Periodontal bacteria causes infections and damages brain cells.

2. Periodontal bacteria triggers inflammation on the brain. This inflammation is involved in Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Oral bacteria responsible for periodontal disease causes vascular changes that can promote Alzheimer’s disease.

Relationship Between Periodontal Disease and Lowered Cognition

Reserachers used the Digital Symbol Test for cognitive function for people aged 70, those with periodontal inflammation had lower DST scores compared to those with little inflammation or none at all, even after considering other risk factors for low DST scores such as obesity and other forms of tooth loss unrelated to periodontal disease.

Early Periodontal Health and Alzheimer’s Disease

According to an article published in the Journal of American Dental Association, any kind of Inflammation as a child increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as an adult. Developing periodontal disease or losing teeth before the age of 35 increases the risk of having Alzheimer’s disease in old age. This makes it so important to maintain good oral hygiene throughout life.

Common Shared Risk Factors

Common risk factors for both Alzheimer’s disease and periodontal disease include genetics and smoking cigarettes. These risk factors could explain the connection between these two disease states. Periodontal inflammation and any kind of tooth loss are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

It is also possible that periodontal disease can cause cerebrovascular injury to the brain.  Stroke is also a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and periodontal disease increases the risk of developing stroke.

Alzheimer’s As a Risk Factor for Periodontal Disease

Patients of Alzheimer’s disease are not always able to practice the required oral and dental hygiene needed to maintain a healthy teeth and gums. This places them at a higher risk of developing periodontal disease.

While there is no conclusive evidence that gum disease causes Alzheimer’s disease or that taking proper care of teeth can reduce the risk of this form of dementia yet, numerous studies conclude that preventing periodontal disease is an effective way of avoiding or delaying Alzheimer’s disease. Along with a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a nutritious diet, regular visits to the dentist as well as practicing proper dental hygiene by brushing teeth and flossing are effective ways of preventing both diseases.

Recent research has shown direct connections between dental health and general health. This makes regular visits to the dentist for dental examinations and professional cleanings doubly important. Poor dental health has been linked to many different health issues. Below you will find a list of the top 7 diseases associated with poor dental health.

Poor Dental Health Can Contribute to Dangerous Health Issues.

-Cancer. Studies have shown a definite link between progressive periodontal disease and cancer. It is believed to be linked to systemic inflammation (a major factor in periodontal disease) which promotes the growth of cancerous cells. Researchers found that men with periodontal disease were 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop cancers of the blood.

-Heart Disease / Stroke. When dental hygiene is not maintained, the bacteria in the mouth can multiply and grow out of control. This bacteria can enter the bloodstream and spread to the rest of the body. If the oral bacteria reach the heart, the bacteria can cause inflammation of the heart (endocarditis). This condition can lead to heart damage or even a stroke. Periodontal disease can also exacerbate existing heart conditions. Patients at risk for infective endocarditis may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures.

-Respiratory Disease. Studies have found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be aspirated into the lungs to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

-Alzheimer’s Disease. This needs further study but recent research has linked poor oral hygiene maintenance with development of alzheimer’s disease.

-Low Birth Weight For Newborns. Recent studies have shown periodontal disease in pregnant women to lead to possible low birth weight. Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. However, more research is needed to confirm how periodontal disease may affect pregnancy outcomes.   Any and all infections are a concern to pregnant women because they pose a risk to the baby’ health.

The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology completed a study regarding early labor in pregnant women diagnosed with periodontal disease. A number of the participants were given an alcohol-free mouth rinse designed to kill the oral bacteria linked to periodontal disease, the other group were told to follow their usual procedures. Of the women given the mouth rinse, 25 percent saw a decreased risk in premature labor and delivery.

-Diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes. This is probably because people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections. In fact, periodontal disease is often considered a complication of diabetes. Those people who don’t have their diabetes under control are especially at risk. Severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar, contributing to increased periods of time when the body functions with a high blood sugar. This puts people with diabetes at increased risk for diabetic complications.

Periodontal disease is a definite issue for people diagnosed with diabetes, because their body has a hard time fighting the infection. In addition, experts feel that periodontal disease also makes it harder for the body to regulate blood sugar levels in non-diabetic patients. People with no prior signs of diabetes suddenly have high blood sugar levels, and people previously diagnosed with diabetes struggle to lower their blood sugar levels.

Conclusion

The evidence is mounting, showing that dental health is linked to general health. Periodontal disease alone is treatable, but can be quite a fight to manage once it reaches critical levels. Adding periodontal disease to systemic disease makes it even harder to control. It is best to manage periodontal issues early while your health is intact and stay healthy for a lifetime of smiles. Your dentist and hygienist will help teach you all that you need to know to keep your gums in optimum condition.