What your dental hygiene has to do with dementia

Periodontitis is another word for gum disease, caused by a specific bacteria called Porphyromonas gingivalis, that leads to infection of the tissue holding the teeth in place, and as a consequence, symptoms such as bleeding gums and loose teeth. Having periodontal disease, a consequence of infection and dysbiosis, is associated with a significant increase of cognitive decline with increasing dental visits correlating with Alzheimer’s.

Gingipains destroy brain cells

The bacteria responsible for gum infection is not only found in those with gum disease, but has also been found at low levels in 25% of healthy individuals with no presence of oral disease. However, what more recent studies are showing is that it is the proteins called gingipains, that are released by the bacteria, that are responsible for damage to nerve cells in the brain, rather than just the bacteria on its own. During experiments carried out in mice that were infected orally by P.gingivalis, scientists discovered that they later demonstrated signs of brain deterioration and infection, which are concurrent with humans showing symptoms of early-stage dementia.

In this same study, carried out by researchers from a variety of universities, brain tissue samples from approximately 100 people with and without Alzheimer’s were analysed and tested for two different types of gingipain proteins. They also tested for the presence of gingipain DNA in both the cerebrospinal fluid and the saliva of people that had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. What they found was that the level of gingipains in brain tissue of those with Alzheimer’s was between 91% and 96% (for the two different proteins), in comparison to 39% and 52% in those without Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, they found gingipain DNA in 7 out of 10 cerebrospinal fluid samples in those with Alzheimer’s and 10 out of 10 for the saliva samples.

Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, report that bacteria like P.gingivalis can enter from oral cavities into the bloodstream through a variety of daily activities, such as eating, brushing teeth and chewing. However, they mention in a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, that the bacteria is more likely to enter the circulatory system after invasive dental treatment, which then goes on to trigger inflammation. Dr. Sim K. Singhrao, Senior Research Fellow at UCLan said: “we are working on the theory that when the brain is repeatedly exposed to bacteria and/or their debris from our gums, subsequent immune responses may lead to nerve cell death and possibly memory loss.”

How to prevent periodontal disease

Besides from the obvious dental hygiene habits like brushing teeth and the tongue after every meal to remove food and plaque, flossing and using an antibacterial mouthwash, there are also dietary measures that can be put in place to offer extra support. The key is avoid sugar, in all its forms, including the seemingly ‘natural’ alternatives to regular cane sugar, as well as focusing on a diet that helps to stabilise blood sugar levels.

  • There is one exception, however, which is xylitol, a ‘sugar alcohol’, which is used in toothpastes, mouthwashes and sweets given to children to PREVENT dental decay. The reason is that these teeth-rotting bacteria, if given xyltiol, can no longer stick to teeth, thus reducing risk.
  • Here are some examples of sugar substitutes to be aware of and avoid: Dextrose, Fructose, Galactose, Glucose, Lactose, Maltose, Sucrose, Beet sugar, Cane juice crystals, Coconut sugar, Corn syrup solids, Crystalline fructose, Date sugar, Dextrin, Diastatic malt, Ethyl maltol, Florida crystals, Glucose syrup solids, Grape concentrate, Maltodextrin, Agave Nectar/Syrup, Barley malt, Blackstrap molasses, Brown rice syrup, Buttered sugar/buttercream, Caramel, Carob syrup, Corn syrup, Evaporated cane juice, Fruit juice, Fruit juice concentrate, Golden syrup, High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Honey, Invert sugar, Malt syrup, Maple syrup, Molasses, Rice syrup, Refiner’s syrup, Sorghum syrup, Treacle.
  • Avoid fruit juices and in particular shop-bought fruit juices, which often contain fruit concentrates. Whilst fruit is a natural form of sugar, fruit juices often contain the juice of the fruit without its pulp or fibre. This means that it is very quickly converted into glucose (sugar) in the body, which leads to blood sugar imbalances and eventually insulin resistance, if consumed too frequently.
  • Eat a diet that mainly consists of foods in their natural form, paying attention to meals that prioritise protein such as in pulses, eggs, poultry, meat and fish, along with a wide variety of vegetables and healthy fats found in nuts and seeds, avocado and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Switch refined carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates – these are foods that are naturally high in fibre such as whole grains like brown rice, wholemeal bread, quinoa and oats, as well as starchy vegetables like beetroot, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and butternut squash.