Bacteria that causes gingivitis may increase Alzheimer’s risk

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A team of researchers at Tufts University, USA, has discovered a correlation between gingivitis – also known as periodontitis and periodontal disease – and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Gum disease occurs through an infection with the bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum (F. nucleatum). It develops from food leftovers and other bacteria that, without brushing your teeth and flossing, find the perfect environment to proliferate and create plaque – which irritate your teeth and cause gingivitis.

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Later, without proper cleaning, they can turn into tartar and elevate the infection to what is called periodontitis.

Bacteria that cause gingivitis may increase Alzheimer’s risk, study shows. Image: shutterstock/Lightspring

According to the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience and released by Medical News Today, F. nucleatum also has the ability to affect the Alzheimer’s phenotype and “penetrate the brain to colonize and secrete pathological molecules to exacerbate the symptoms and signs of the disease,” as explained by Dr. Jake Jinkun Chen, professor of periodontology and lead author of the research.

To prove the action of the bacteria, the team of scientists carried out tests in mouse models with Alzheimer’s. The results showed that compared to control animals (without gum disease or Alzheimer’s), mice with periodontitis had increased cognitive impairment and higher levels of amyloid plaques and Tau protein (characteristics of Alzheimer’s). In addition, an increase in inflammation of microglial cells (which has the role of protecting brain and spinal cord tissue) was also observed.

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This is not, however, the first time that F. nucleatum has been involved in diseases other than periodontal disease. Previous research has also linked the bacteria to colon cancer and oral cancer. Periodontitis has also been linked to diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular problems.

for Dr. Chen, the findings can act on four major pillars of health:

  1. First, prevention of periodontitis, as a significant percentage of the adult population has periodontal disease and more than 55 million people worldwide live with dementia;
  1. Second, the mechanistic understanding of an understudied anaerobic bacterium, which will fill in gaps and send warnings to dentists and neurologists;
  1. Third, the animal model provides the technical capability to delineate the possible cause between a local dental disease (periodontal disease) and a neural disorder (Alzheimer’s disease) at an anatomically remote location;
  1. And fourth, the study may provide proof of principle to study whether treatment of periodontal disease can decrease or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

“We don’t know at this point if things like brushing your teeth will end up reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s,” added Dr. Percy Griffin, at MNT.

“What we can say is that good oral hygiene is important for overall health and healthy aging. There are several other lifestyle modifiable risk factors – such as exercise and diet – that have considerable scientific evidence to show that they can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.”

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