Now there is more reason to brush, floss and visit the dentist regularly – it could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease…
Scientists have found that bacteria involved in gum disease can travel throughout the body, exuding toxins connected with Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and aspiration pneumonia.
They detected evidence of the bacteria in brain samples from people with Alzheimer’s and used mice to show that the bacterium can find its way from the mouth to the brain.
The bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis, is the bad actor involved in peritonitis, the most serious form of gum disease.
A beautiful smile for a beautiful brain
“Oral hygiene is very important throughout our lives, not only for having a beautiful smile but also to decrease the risk of many serious diseases,” says Jan Potempa, PhD, DSc, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry and Head of the Department of Microbiology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.
“People with genetic risk factors that make them susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis or Alzheimer’s disease should be extremely concerned with preventing gum disease.”
Potempa’s team, in collaboration with Cortexyme, Inc., compared brain samples from deceased people with and without Alzheimer’s disease who were roughly the same age when they died.
They found P. gingivalis was more common in samples from Alzheimer’s patients, evidenced by the bacterium’s DNA fingerprint and the presence of its key toxins, known as gingipains.
Gum disease bacteria can move to the brain
In studies using mice, they showed that P. gingivalis can move from the mouth to the brain and that this migration can be blocked by chemicals that interact with gingipains.
An experimental drug that blocks gingipains, known as COR388, is currently in phase 1 clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease. Cortexyme, Inc. and Potempa’s team are working on other compounds that block enzymes important to P. gingivalis and other gum bacteria in hopes of interrupting their role in advancing Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
The researchers also report evidence on the bacterium’s role in the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis, as well as aspiration pneumonia, a lung infection caused by inhaling food or saliva.
It starts in teenage years
- Gingivalis commonly begins to infiltrate the gums during the teenage years. About one in five people under age 30 have low levels of the bacterium in their gums.
While it is not harmful in most people, if it grows too large numbers the bacteria provoke the body’s immune system to create inflammation, leading to redness, swelling, bleeding and the erosion of gum tissue.
Making matters worse, P. gingivalis even causes benign bacteria in the mouth to change their activities and further increase the immune response. Bacteria can travel from the mouth into the bloodstream through the simple act of chewing.
How to protect yourself
The best way to prevent P. gingivalis from growing out of control is by brushing and flossing regularly and visiting a dental hygienist at least once a year, says Potempa.
Smokers and older people are at increased risk of infection. Genetic factors are also thought to play a role, but they are not well understood.