When you attend a check-up at the Essex Smile Centre, our dentists and hygienists will routinely check for the early stages of periodontal (or ‘gum’) disease. Often referred to as a ‘silent’ disease, since the early symptoms are not always obvious or accompanied by pain, gum disease is nevertheless one of the leading causes of tooth loss in the UK.
But research into this area reveals that the dangers can extend far beyond oral health. Indeed, poor gum health could be a precursor to some very serious health woes – with a new study claiming that certain bugs found in gum disease play “a central role” in developing the likes of Alzheimer’s and rheumatoid arthritis.
The study – compiled by researchers from universities across Poland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand – claims the bug that causes periodontal disease could make its way around the body and cause further infections. In the most serious examples, it could go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and aspiration pneumonia.
To date there has been no conclusive proof as to what actually causes Alzheimer’s disease, with researchers long assuming it was down to a mixture of genes and lifestyle. However, this new study showed that proteins caused by the bacteria porphyromonas gingivalis (which causes gingivitis), were found in high concentration within the brains of those living with Alzheimer’s.
Interestingly, gingivitis has frequently been observed among Alzheimer’s patients, though it has been put down to those living with the disease being less able to maintain good oral health. This new study, however, suggests the cause and effect may actually be reversed.
Further testing showed that mice infected with P. gingivalis demonstrated signs of brain infection and deterioration – the likes of which is typically found in humans with early-stage dementia.
P. gingivalis affects around 1 in 5 people – becoming an issue when it triggers an inflammatory response that causes bleeding, swelling and the erosion of gum tissue. During this time, the bacteria can pass through to the bloodstream simply through the individual chewing food or brushing their teeth.
A new drug to combat the effects that P. gingivalis has on the brain is currently being tested in clinical trials. However, with a conclusive verdict still some way off yet, the best route to protect yourself is still to take good care of your teeth and gums. This not only prevents bacteria moving from your gums to other areas of the body, but also helps maintain good oral health from the start – to prevent issues from developing at source.