Gum Disease and Alzheimer’s Connection: A Deep Dive into Oral Health’s Impact on the Brain
The health of our mouth might have more to do with our brain than we think. Recent research has unveiled a startling connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s, shedding light on the broader implications of oral health.
Oral Health’s Systemic Impact:
While oral diseases might seem isolated, they’re increasingly linked to severe health issues. From colon cancer to heart disease, oral bacteria have shown their influence. The Forsyth Institute’s latest research adds another concern to the list: Alzheimer’s disease.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Amyloid Plaque:
The study, titled “Microglial cell response to experimental periodontal disease,” published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, delves into the relationship between periodontal (gum) disease and amyloid plaque formation, a defining feature of Alzheimer’s. The research highlights how gum disease can alter brain cells, specifically microglial cells, which combat amyloid plaque.
Oral Bacteria’s Journey to the Brain:
Dr. Alpdogan Kantarci, a senior member at Forsyth, emphasized the study’s significance. “We’ve known that gum disease-related inflammation triggers a response in the brain. But the real question was, can oral bacteria change brain cells?” The answer seems to be a resounding yes. When exposed to oral bacteria, microglial cells overreacted, becoming ineffective at digesting amyloid plaques.
The Implications of Gum Disease:
Gum disease creates lesions between teeth and gums, essentially open wounds. Dr. Kantarci explains, “This allows mouth bacteria to enter your bloodstream and travel throughout your body.” These bacteria can breach the blood/brain barrier, affecting brain microglial cells.
Using mouse-specific bacteria, the team induced gum disease in lab mice. They confirmed that the bacteria reached the brain. When they exposed isolated brain microglial cells to this bacteria, they observed increased neuroinflammation and altered amyloid plaque management.
Conclusion and Future Directions:
Dr. Kantarci believes understanding oral bacteria’s role in neuroinflammation can lead to targeted strategies. “To prevent neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, controlling oral inflammation from gum disease is crucial,” he states. This research underscores the interconnectedness of our body systems. It serves as a reminder that oral health isn’t just about a bright smile; it’s intricately linked to our overall well-being.
Research Team and Acknowledgments:
The study involved collaboration between Forsyth Institute and Boston University. The team included Rawan Almarhoumi, Carla Alvarez, Theodore Harris, Bruce J. Paster, Christina M. Tognoni, Isabel Carreras, Alpaslan Dedeoglu, and Dr. Alpdogan Kantarci. Funding from NIH/NIA (R01AG062496) supported this groundbreaking research.