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Research studies on the link between Alzheimer’s disease and periodontal bacteria

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in adults over the age of 65 and it’s one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.  But did you know there may be a link between Alzheimer’s disease and poor oral health?

A study published in Science Advances suggested a potential link between Alzheimer’s and periodontal bacteria, or the strain of bacteria that causes gum disease. The study found that the bacteria can travel from the mouth to the brain, and was found in the brain tissue, spinal fluid, and saliva. The bacteria produce toxins that can destroy neurons in the brain, thus increasing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

An analysis by the National Institute of Aging also revealed that older adults with signs of gum disease and mouth infections were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

What to take away from the latest Alzheimer's research studies

Research continues to support the importance of oral health for overall health, and both can worsen as we age if we ignore them.

Keeping your mouth healthy is important for your oral and overall health throughout your life. However, older adults need to be vigilant in their oral care because they can be more susceptible to infection if they have dry mouth, are a smoker, or take certain medications.

Older adults are at a higher risk of poor oral health because certain things can make dental care and appointments less of a priority. This may increase the risk of developing gum disease and the spread of bacteria to the brain. 

Here are some other factors that may impact oral health care in older adults:

  • Many older adults don’t get a new dental plan after they retire (when they no longer have employer-sponsored dental benefits).
  • Medicare does not cover dental care, although some Medicare Advantage plans are available for purchase to cover dental care.
  • A lack of transportation may make regular dental visits difficult.

If you or a loved one is having trouble getting dental care, it is important to talk to professionals that can help choose dental coverage that is a good fit for you. 

Maintaining good oral health may decrease the risk of developing many diseases including Alzheimer’s. It is important to continue to consistently floss and brush your teeth, as well as see a dentist regularly, to prevent and treat gum disease. 

*Updated June 2022