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Alzheimer's and Gingivitis: Disease Linked to Gum Disease

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerApril 12, 2019

Can brushing your teeth regularly boost your brain health? A new study suggests that brain and oral health may be closely linked. The study, published in Science Advances, links Alzheimer’s and gingivitis and also suggests that the bacteria may even spur the production of beta-amyloid proteins, a toxic protein that is a hallmark characteristic of the disease.

Learn more about the study and how Alzheimer’s could be linked to gum disease.

Alzheimer’s and Gingivitis Linked

Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and occurs when the gums become inflamed because of bacterial plaque on the surface of the teeth. Over 50% of all adults experience gingivitis, but its effects are usually reversible.

If left untreated, however, “sub-gingival pockets” can form between the tooth and gum. These are filled with bacteria and are evidence that the gingivitis has moved into periodontitis. Once the disease has moved into this stage, it is nearly impossible to eliminate, but it can be controlled.

A recent study published in Science Advances found that a certain type of bacteria in periodontitis, called Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) was also present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Conducted and self-funded by U.S. pharmaceutical company Cortexyme, the study also ran tests on mice showing how the bacteria spread to the brain, where it destroyed neurons and reproduced all the characteristic features of the disease.

The Connection Between Brain and Oral Health

This study is the latest of several studies to connect brain health and oral health. Researchers from the University of Central Lancashire were the first to make the connection between Alzheimer’s and P. gingivalis. Other studies have linked Alzheimer’s to the Herpes type I virus and a 2016 study found that people with the disease and periodontitis experienced a more rapid cognitive decline.

In response to the study, Cortexyme, Inc. has developed an investigational drug called COR388. The company claims that preclinical trials have shown that the drug can slow the production of beta-amyloid, reduce inflammation and reduce the P. Gingivalis bacteria.

“Now, for the first time, we have solid evidence connecting the intracellular, Gram-negative pathogen, P. gingivalis, and Alzheimer’s pathogenesis. This… demonstrates the potential for a class of small molecule therapies to change the trajectory of disease,” Dr. Stephen Dominy, Cortexyme’s co-founder and lead author of the paper said in a press release.

While more research needs to be done to establish a causal relationship, experts caution that not everyone who has gum disease will go on to develop Alzheimer’s and not everyone who has Alzheimer’s will have gum disease.

Researchers hope to develop more tests to identify who may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s and how to reduce the risk of developing the disease through better oral health.

Have you seen a relationship between Alzheimer’s and gingivitis? We’d like to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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