New Study Reveals Surprising Link Between Gum Disease and Brain Health

Correspondent Correspondent
Sunday, July 16, 2023
New Study Reveals Surprising Link Between Gum Disease and Brain Health
Toothbrushes: A Surprising Tool for a Healthy Mind.
Maintaining a bright smile may be more important than we thought, as new research suggests that our toothbrushes could be a secret weapon in preserving not only our dental health but also our cognitive abilities. A recent study published in the respected scientific journal Neurology has unveiled a potential link between gum disease and certain brain issues. Although it's essential to avoid jumping to conclusions, this study hints at a connection between oral health problems and negative changes in the brain.

Dr. Satoshi Yamaguchi, a renowned expert from the Division of Aging and Geriatric Dentistry at Tohoku University in Japan, believes that investigating the potential association between tooth loss, gum disease, and memory or brain problems is highly relevant. Dr. Yamaguchi and his team have discovered that dental problems may impact a specific part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is crucial for memory and has been associated with Alzheimer's disease. Previous studies have already established a connection between gingivitis, a form of gum disease, and Alzheimer's.

The destructive journey begins when bacteria responsible for gum disease migrate from the mouth to the brain. Once there, these bacteria release enzymes called gingipains, which have the ability to damage nerve cells. This damage can lead to memory loss and, over time, potentially contribute to the development of Alzheimer's disease. The toxic substances generated by gingipains are closely linked to the levels of tau and ubiquitin proteins, both of which are believed to play a role in the progression of Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, older individuals showing signs of gum disease and oral infections were found to be more susceptible to developing Alzheimer's during the study period.

The connection between gum disease and Alzheimer's disease is still somewhat elusive. However, it is speculated that the body's inflammatory response to gum disease may contribute to the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's. While infections may not be the primary cause of Alzheimer's disease, they can act as contributing factors. By following simple oral hygiene practices such as brushing teeth twice daily, flossing at least once a day, and scheduling regular dental check-ups, individuals can help prevent gingivitis and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Satoshi Yamaguchi's recent study involved 172 participants with an average age of 67 who initially did not exhibit any memory problems. The participants underwent dental exams and memory tests at the beginning of the study, as well as brain scans to measure the size of the hippocampus. These tests were repeated four years later.

To evaluate gum disease, the researchers measured the "pockets" between the teeth and gums. A measurement of one to three millimeters indicates a healthy condition. If the measurement reaches three to four millimeters in several places, it indicates mild gum disease. Measurements of five to six millimeters suggest severe gum disease, which can result in loose teeth or even tooth loss. The team discovered a connection between the number of teeth, the degree of gum disease, and changes in the left hippocampus of the brain. Interestingly, the correlation varied for individuals with mild and severe gum disease.

For those with mild gum disease, having fewer teeth was associated with a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the left hippocampus. Conversely, for those with severe gum disease, having more teeth was linked to a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the same area. This implies that in some cases, removing severely affected teeth and replacing them with false teeth may be a wise decision. After accounting for age, the researchers found that for individuals with mild gum disease, the accelerated rate of brain shrinkage due to the loss of one tooth was comparable to nearly a year of brain aging. On the other hand, for individuals with severe gum disease, the increased rate of brain shrinkage due to an additional tooth equated to 1.3 years of brain aging.

Dr. Yamaguchi emphasizes the importance of not only having teeth but also taking care of them properly. The findings suggest that individuals with severe gum disease may be more susceptible to brain shrinkage. Dr. Yamaguchi stresses that regular dental visits are crucial for controlling gum disease.

While these findings are significant, Dr. Yamaguchi acknowledges that future research should involve larger groups of people. Additionally, as this study was conducted in a specific region of Japan, it is essential to consider that the findings might not be universally applicable worldwide.