Gum Disease Leads to Alzheimer’s and Other Diseases
In a recent blog I looked at how amyloid plaque in the brain, once believed to be the cause of Alzheimer’s disease, was actually caused by the brain trying to protect itself. Amyloid plaque is produced as a result of the brain attempting to sequester bad bacteria and fungus, and thus, is only a symptom of Alzheimer’s, not the cause. (Blog) In this newsletter, I will examine some recent research on one of the worst microbes that infects the brain.
We have over 6 billion bacteria inside our mouth (700 different species); this is known as the oral microbiome. Like with the gut microbiome, some of these bacteria promote health, while others provoke disease.
One of the disease-causing bacteria is known as Porphyromonas gingivalis, and is the cause of periodontitis, a serious form of gum disease, and this bacteria has been found in brain samples from people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Using mice, researchers showed how this bacteria can travel throughout the body, from the mouth to the brain. And, as well as Alzheimer’s disease, P. gingivalis is also implicated in other disease states, including hepatitis, esophageal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and aspiration pneumonia (a lung infection caused by inhaling food or saliva).
In fact, I remember years ago one study also linked gum disease to heart disease. And I was able to confirm this link on PubMed, where I found a study concluding that, “Periodontal disease is highly prevalent in chronic heart failure patients regardless of the cause of heart failure”. (Study)
The gingivitis bacteria begins to settle into the gums during the teenage years, and while it is at low levels in most people (and not harmful), if it grows in number, this bacteria can trigger the immune system, leading to bleeding, inflammation, swelling, and erosion of gum tissue. At that point, P. gingivalis can cause benign mouth bacteria to change for the worse, further amplifying the immune system’s response.
The worst case scenario occurs among those with bleeding gums. Bleeding gums constitute an open wound site, which allows oral bacteria, and associated toxins, to enter the bloodstream. Studies have shown a link between bleeding gums and increased heart attacks, strokes, erectile dysfunction, and even premature low birth weight in babies (because these toxins can cross the placental barrier).
What these findings illustrate is the importance of good dental hygiene, including proper brushing (for at least 2 minutes), and flossing, oil pulling, and the avoidance of refined carbohydrates (which feed these bad mouth bacteria), and excess alcohol (including mouthwashes containing alcohol).
The American Dental Association recommends you replace your toothbrush approximately every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. It is also a good idea to rinse the toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide at least once a week. This prevents bad bacteria from building up in the bristles.
The authors of this study also advise that one should visit a dental hygienist at least once a year, and that the elderly, and smokers, are at a greater risk for infection.
"Oral hygiene is very important throughout our life, not only for having a beautiful smile but also to decrease the risk of many serious diseases," said Jan Potempa, PhD, DSc, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry and head of the department of microbiology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. "People with genetic risk factors that make them susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis or Alzheimer's disease should be extremely concerned with preventing gum disease." (Source)
Bad bacteria can travel from the mouth into the bloodstream through such simple acts as chewing, or even brushing teeth. This creates some confusion, since I have just advised that one brush regularly, to help avoid this problem.
The problem is, every time we chew, brush, or floss, these germs can get pushed into small vessels in the gums.
“Teeth are made of the same cell structure as bone,” said Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of AsktheDentist.com. “They’re unique, however, in that they’re the only component of the body that breaks through skin with a bone at the base.”
The base of each tooth is protected by what is called biological width, described by Burhenne as “a protective gasket where, in a healthy mouth, the immune system keeps bugs from entering the body and causing infection.” However, when one has chronic gum disease, or other oral infections, this protective seal breaks down.
“As oral bacteria breaks into the bloodstream, it can travel to organs throughout the body, including the brain,” Burhenne explained.
Burhenne does not recommend mouthwash as part of a daily oral hygiene regimen. “It’s too disruptive to the oral microbiome to allow for proper growth of good bacteria,” he said.
Rather, he suggests that you are “much better off to rinse your mouth with water after high-carb meals and snacks then brush 30 to 45 minutes later. Water helps buffer the collection of bacteria until you can brush.”
Given that excessive alcohol intake can also disrupt the good bacteria in the mouth, other experts also recommend rinsing with water between sips of alcoholic beverages, in order to prevent this disruption from occurring. (Source)
A study of 625 men (done by Veteran’s Affairs), found that eating high-fiber foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, reduced the progression of gum disease. This occurred because fiber creates more saliva in the mouth, which, in turn, helps get rid of excess food, and offsets harmful acids. (Study)
For more information on the subject of dental hygiene, and cavity prevention, especially as it relates to diet, follow this link to the Weston A. Price Foundation website. And, if you know nothing about Price and his work in the field of anthropology and dentistry, you are in for an interesting read.
Finally, do not make the mistake of thinking that taking just any probiotics into the mouth will kick up your good bacteria, and keep the bad bacteria in check. The worst bacteria for causing cavities (especially in children) is lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacteria commonly ingested for gut health. I have recently seen chewable children’s probiotics that include this bacteria, which is just a bad idea (and poor product research and development). However, chewable probiotics based on L. salivarius, can be helpful, as this is a probiotic that belongs in the mouth. (Reference)