Key Connections Between Gum Disease & Alzheimer’s

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Gum disease raises the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and hastens its progression. Read on to learn about the link between poor dental health and cognitive decline, as well as how to optimize your senior loved one’s oral hygiene.

Gum Disease Complications

There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is the result of plaque, a sticky film secreted by bacteria that adheres to mouth surfaces, and affected gums are swollen, red, tender, and prone to bleeding.

Gingivitis can adversely affect your elderly loved one’s health, wellbeing, and overall quality of life. Seniors who want to remain healthy as they age can benefit in a variety of ways when they receive professional non-medical at-home care. Mesa, Arizona, Home Care Assistance is here to help your loved one accomplish daily tasks, prevent illness, and focus on living a healthier and more fulfilling life.

Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, separating gums from teeth and creating deep pockets. When bacteria get trapped in recessed gums, the tissues become infected. If bacteria aren’t killed, they can damage teeth, supporting ligaments, and the jawbone. Loose teeth may fall out or need surgical extraction. Bacterial infection also affects brain function in the following ways.

Faulty Immunity

When infectious microbes reach the brain, they can trigger an abnormal defensive response. Confused immune cells attack brain tissue instead of bacteria. In August 2017, Taiwanese researchers studied the effects of long-standing gum disease. Over 10 years, they followed 28,000 adults regarding oral health and Alzheimer’s disease. The study consisted of 9,300 people with chronic periodontitis and 18,700 subjects without gum disease.

Records analysis showed the subjects with long-term gum disease had a 70 percent greater risk of Alzheimer’s than those with good dental health. The subjects with healthy gums brushed their teeth more frequently than those with periodontitis. The research was published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.

Brain Inflammation

People with periodontal disease have higher blood levels of antibodies that are also found in seniors with Alzheimer’s. Inflammation triggers degenerative changes in brain cells that lead to dementia. The physiologic hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are abnormal twisted protein fibers that harden and collect between neurons, impede the flow of nutrients to brain tissue, and prevent cellular communication.

In 2013, a UK study compared brain samples of healthy people with those who had Alzheimer’s. The normal brain tissue was free of bacteria. However, in four out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s, microbes were identified. The bacteria were the same species that cause gum disease. The study was reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Blood-Brain Barrier Breakdown

Healthy individuals have an intact blood-brain barrier (BBB), a filtering membrane. This structure works selectively, allowing blood to enter the brain and blocking harmful substances such as bacteria. Inflammation degrades the BBB, making it porous. Gaps in the membrane allow oral bacteria to penetrate brain tissue and kill neurons. BBB breakdown also advances the formation of brain plaques. This is the finding of research reported in Volume 7 of the 2013 issue of Today’s Geriatric Medicine.

Impaired Cognition

A 2010 NYU study found periodontal disease increases cognitive decline in both healthy adults and those with Alzheimer’s. For this study, scientists analyzed the dental and cognitive records of 152 people from Denmark. Subjects were divided into two groups, either with or without periodontal disease. Each participant underwent cognitive testing at age 50 and 70. The adults with periodontal disease had the lowest test scores, compared to those with good dental health. This was the case at both age 50 and 70, in those with and without Alzheimer’s. The scientists concluded that these findings demonstrate a link between gum disease, brain inflammation, and neurodegeneration.

Cognitive Decline

In 2016, University of Southampton researchers assessed the effect of gum disease on Alzheimer’s progression. Study participants were 59 adults with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Each subject received cognitive and blood tests, looking for inflammatory markers. A dental hygienist assessed oral health, identifying those with gum disease. At the end of six months, the subjects with gum disease showed rapid cognitive decline. In fact, the rate was six times greater than that of subjects with good oral health. The study was reported in PLOS One.

Gum Disease Prevention

Self-Care

Make sure your senior loved one maintains good oral hygiene. Dentures should be rinsed with water after each meal. Before denture removal, your loved one must wash his or her hands to prevent germs from entering the mouth. Every night before bedtime, your loved one should remove the appliance and clean it with a denture brush and cool water. Overnight, immerse dentures in a cleansing solution to kill remaining bacteria. Alternatively, replace denture soaks with an ultrasonic cleaning device, which uses sound waves to polish dentures at a microscopic level, and a device with a germicidal UV light kills bacteria. Each morning, before applying dentures, your loved one should clean his or her gums and tongue with a soft-bristled brush or moistened gauze pad. This step removes oral plaque. Then, he or she should rinse dentures thoroughly to remove all traces of cleanser.

If your loved one has retained his or her natural teeth, he or she should floss once daily and brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. To kill germs and prevent decay, make sure your loved one rinses with an antibacterial mouthwash twice daily. 

Assisted Care

If independent hygiene isn’t possible for your loved one, a professional caregiver can assist with this task. In the absence of a caregiver, use the following tips.

Break down dental routines into simple steps. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, verbally coach your loved one with short instructions such as “Hold the toothbrush. Squeeze the toothpaste onto it. Now, move the brush over your teeth.” 

In late-stage Alzheimer’s, you may need to demonstrate each step or take your loved one’s hand in yours and guide him or her.

Experiment with different toothbrush designs, such as children’s, angled, and long-handled, to determine what works best. Avoid using an electric toothbrush, which can be agitating and confusing.

If your senior loved one needs help managing an illness or assistance with daily tasks, make sure you choose a top-rated home care agency. Mesa Home Care Assistance is here to help your loved one live a happier and healthier life in the golden years. From the mentally stimulating activities in our Cognitive Therapeutics Method to our friendly Care Managers who are available to answer your questions 24 hours a day, we offer a wide array of high-quality at-home care services.

Professional Care

If your loved one wears dentures, schedule dental appointments every six months to evaluate denture fit and oral health. The dentist can also recommend appropriate cleansers and adhesive products.

If your loved one has retained his or her teeth, schedule visits with a dental hygienist twice a year for thorough cleaning of plaque and mineral tooth deposits called tartar.

Living with a serious health condition can make it challenging for seniors to age in place. However, they can maintain a higher quality of life with the help of professional live-in care. Mesa seniors can benefit from assistance with meal prep, bathing, transportation to the doctor’s office, medication reminders, and much more. Call Home Care Assistance at (480) 699-4899 to schedule a free in-home consultation.