KEEPING up with your dentist appointments could help prevent Alzheimer’s, a study suggests.
Research shows a link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, which affects around 55 million people worldwide.
Already gum disease is thought to raise the risk of a number of health problems, from cancer to heart disease.
Scientists at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Massachusetts, honed in on one bacteria known to cause gum disease – F. nucleatum.
The study on mice showed that F. nucleatum might be involved in Alzheimer’s.
Lead author Dr Jake Jinkun said: “Our studies show that F. nucleatum can reduce the memory and thinking skills in mice through certain signal pathways.
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“This is a warning sign to researchers and clinicians alike.”
F. nucleatum may result in the growth of microglial cells, which are immune cells in the brain that remove damaged neurons.
The proliferation of the cells causes inflammation, which Dr Chen said is "believed to be a key determinant in the cognitive decline that occurs as Alzheimer’s disease progresses".
Or, it may be that F. nucleatum infiltrates the brain and secretes harmful molecules.
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The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, does not directly show that those with gum disease are more likely to get Alzheimer’s.
However, Dr Chen said it does suggest that if you don’t adequately treat gum disease, you might make Alzheimer’s symptoms worse.
And treating gum disease early could stall progression of the memory-wiping illness.
Alzhiemer’s is incurable – once you have it, there is no way of getting rid of it and the progression is slow over many years.
How to avoid
Having good oral hygiene will generally protect you from gum disease, but unfortunately, the older you get, the more susceptible you are.
Some health conditions and medications are a significant risk factor for developing gum disease, including diabetes, smoking, or cancer.
Daily oral hygiene and plaque control can prevent gum disease, but you should also visit the dentist every six months.
To effectively look after your oral health:
- Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day – spit after brushing, do not rinse
- Clean in between your teeth every day using floss or interdental brushes
- Replace your toothbrush every one to three months
- See a dentist and dental hygienist for regular check-ups, especially if you're pregnant or have type 2 diabetes
- Stop smoking
The risk of Alzheimer’s can accumulate over a lifetime and is partly driven by a number of factors, some of which are not possible to change, such as your genetics.
Generally, you can slash dementia odds by eating a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking and limiting alcohol.
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There are currently around 900,000 people with dementia in the UK, most of which will have the most common type, Alzheimer’s.
And worldwide, there are 57.4 million – a figure expected to more than double in 28 years, to 152.8 million by 2050.
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