Nearly 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, with someone developing the irreversible brain disease every 65 seconds. Researchers are working tirelessly not only to find a cure but also to understand more about what causes Alzheimer’s.
Scientists have focused on genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. Increasingly, they are looking at metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity as well as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Now, research suggests another possible culprit: gum disease, or gingivitis.
How can a condition typically associated with bad breath and weak tooth enamel be tied to Alzheimer’s disease? The connection, say scientists at the University of Bergen in Germany, is bacteria.
The team has discovered DNA-based proof that the same bacteria that cause gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain, mainly through cavities and other openings in the jaw. These bacteria produce a protein that destroys nerve cells in the brain, which can lead to memory loss and, ultimately, Alzheimer’s.
The same bacteria also have been linked to rheumatism, COPD and esophageal cancer.
While the scientists stressed the bacteria are not directly causing Alzheimer’s, their presence substantially raises the risk for developing the disease — and for it to progress rapidly.
The team is working on a drug they hope will block the bacteria, which could at least slow down the disease’s growth. In the meantime, their advice is the same as you’ve been hearing since you were a child: Brush your teeth, floss and have your teeth cleaned regularly. The benefits may go well beyond a bright and healthy smile.