Sounds bizarre, but, for some time now, scientists have been aware of the connection between poor oral health and Dementia Care. Long-term studies have revealed that those who suffer from chronic periodontitis (gum disease) are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s as they age. To explain the connection, scientists suggest that the inflammation caused by gum disease spreads to the brain and stimulates the production of the beta-amyloid plaques that are thought to be responsible for the cognitive decline seen in Alzheimer’s patients. (The connection between inflammation and dementia was discussed in detail in a previous newsletter.) The spread of inflammation and migration of bacteria that live in dental plaque cause the gum disease. The bacteria enter the bloodstream or invade the peripheral nerves and in this way reach the brain, where they trigger an immune response that results in the buildup of the amyloid plaques.
A study published last week in the January 23, 2019 edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal Science Advances., maintains that good oral hygiene could help in preventing Alzheimer ’s disease—at least according to the findings of the study.
This hypothesis turned out to be correct: the gum disease bacteria do indeed find their way into the brain, where they set off the brain’s immune response. The recent study detected the presence of P. gingivalis, the bacterium that causes gum disease, in over 90% of more than 50 brains of people who had died in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. To demonstrate that the gum disease bacterium was responsible for the high levels of amyloid plaques found in their Alzheimer’s brain samples.
In a separate experiment, the researchers focused their attention on gingipains, a toxic enzyme produced by the P. gingivalis bacterium, which was also found in the Alzheimer’s brains that the researchers analyzed. The enzyme gingipains feeds the bacteria by chopping up proteins for the bacteria to consume. The researchers found that gingipains damages the tau proteins in brain cells, causing them to produce the tangles that are characteristic of those with advanced Alzheimer’s.
The researchers suggest that the best way to treat the condition is to starve the bacteria by cutting off their food supply. This can be done by deactivating the enzyme gingipains. The research team designed a drug that binds to gingipains so that it cannot do its job of breaking down proteins. A version of the drug has been tested on a few human volunteers and has produced positive results. A more extensive drug trail will begin later this year.
It is important to note that the study does not provide conclusive proof that P. gingivalis causes dementia and not everyone with gum disease will develop Alzheimer’s, but whether or not the gum disease bacterium causes Alzheimer’s, it is always a good idea to maintain good oral hygiene.
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