For decades, experts have known that there is a link between the health of your mouth and your physical wellbeing. Numerous studies support the link, and some of them have established undeniable evidence of the connection; however, more research must be done to understand exactly how one affects the other. In a step towards understanding the oral-systemic connection, dental researchers at New York University have linked the destructive inflammation of gum disease to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In honor of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month this November, Lafayette dentist Dr. Michael Young explains how gum disease and dementia are connected.
The Circumstances of Gum Disease
Although not as often discussed as most chronic systemic diseases, gum disease has been dubbed “the silent epidemic” by some experts. It affects over 75% of adults in America, and is the number one cause of adult tooth loss in the country, as well. It starts with dental plaque, which is comprised of hundreds different types of oral bacteria. When plaque accumulates at your gumline, the bacteria release toxins that irritate the gum tissue, causing it to separate from your teeth and create pockets for more bacteria to collect. Left unchecked, the infection will continue to work its way down through your gums, destroying the connective tissue that holds it to your teeth and eroding the supporting jawbone that holds your teeth in place. Certain bacteria also incite your immune system’s inflammatory response to harmful biological agents, and oral inflammation is the driving force behind the compounding destruction of gum disease.
The Connection to Alzheimer’s Disease
When inflammation affects other areas of your body, it can prove just as devastating as it does to your oral health. The NYU dental research team, led by Dr. Angela Kamer, examined over 20 years’ worth of data on 152 subjects. The study’s subjects were a part of the Glostrop Aging Study that has been gathering medical, psychological, oral health, and social data on Danish men and women. Dr. Kamer’s research indicated that patients who exhibited signs of periodontal (gum) inflammation were at a significantly higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s than patients who had no gum inflammation. The relationship did not falter when considering other risk factors, including obesity, tobacco use, and tooth loss unrelated to gum disease.
While the results do not suggest that gum disease directly causes Alzheimer’s disease, it exemplifies the oral-systemic connection and the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy mouth for the good of your physical health, as well. If you live in the 70508 area and are in need of dental care, or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Young, call our Lafayette dentist office at (337) 237-6453.