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Can Brushing Everyday, Keep Alzheimer's away?

Can Brushing Everyday, Keep Alzheimer's Away?


World researchers say good oral health may supress Alzheimer's and dementia, but some say it cannot. Let’s check out the research behind the question and decide for ourselves.

Based on numerous studies around the world, keeping your gums and teeth healthy may lower your risk of acquiring cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

In 2016, scientists from King's College London and University of Southampton have found that periodontitis or gum disease affects the brain by accelerating the mental degeneration of people with early signs of Alzheimer’s despite some institutions saying the relationship between oral health and Alzheimer’s are not clear.

Most elderly people are susceptible to gum infections because they usually find it hard to take care of their oral health. In the past, previous researches have already associated that bacteria from the mouth can increase the probability of causing cognitive problems. However, this latest study published in PLos ONE in 2016, aimed to verify whether or not periodontics can influence the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

For half a year, the researchers observed 59 subjects with Alzheimer’s disease by assessing their level of cognition and taking their blood sample to see if there were inflammatory markers in their bloodstream. A dentist also checked on their dental health.  

As a result, the memory of participants with gum disease problems are six times faster to degenerate than regular. The gum disease affects the brain by increasing its “pro-inflammatory state” in the patient’s blood. With the release of more antibodies to fight the bacteria, neurons are also damaged in the process. This realization led them to conclude that periodontitis and the body’s defense is related to the “increase in cognitive decline” of elderly people with early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.

For the study’s lead author Prof. Clive Holmes, their work was built on previous theories of other scientists linking dental health with Alzheimer’s. Although, their studies were small and brief, it clearly indicates that “chronic inflammatory condition” is related to the development of  Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dr. Mark Ide, the first author of the study and professor at the college, explained the importance of the study based on the UK’s data on gum disease.  “Gum disease is a major cause of tooth loss [in UK],” Ide said.


According to data collected In 2009, 80 percent of adults, age 55 and up, suffer from gum problems. At the same time,60 percent of adults age 75 and up, had their teeth down to 21 and below with half of them remembered having gum disease before losing their teeth.

To avert the increasing population of old people who will likely to acquire dementia, the researchers suggests that effective dental and oral health care should be practiced to “reduce the levels of inflammatory molecules [attributed to Alzheimer’s] closer to that seen in a healthy state.”

Several studies on this relationship have also been made in the past.


Less Brushing = More Chance of Dementia

A U.S study made from 1984 to 2012 analyzed the brushing habits of more than five thousand elderly people for 18 years and found that people who keep their gums and teeth healthy through regular brushing have a lower risk of getting dementia as they age.

Researchers from the University of California discovered that respondents who did not brush their teeth regularly has 65 percent chance to develop dementia than those who did.

“Your oral health habits influence whether or not you get dementia," explaines Annlia Paganini-Hill, the lead author of the research published in American Geriatrics Society’s journal.

Her team monitored 5,468 elderly residents age 52-105 of a retirement community in California from 1992-2010. At the start of the study period, all were mentally healthy and able to answer questions about the history and condition of their teeth and dental health habits.

After 18 years, they analyzed the medical records and death certificates of the participants and discovered that 1145 of them were diagnosed with dementia.

Based on their interview on dental health, out of 78 women who were irregular brushers, 21 had dementia.

According to their calculations, men who don’t brush have 22 percent of having cognitive problems or dementia than men who diligently brushed their teeth.

Despite the numbers, the researchers were hesitant in pointing poor dental health to Alzheimer’s and suggest that more study should be made. The research team was only limited in looking fo behavior patterns, records  and number of teeth remaining in their subjects. They didn't even carry out dental exams and test their blood sample.

"I [cannot] draw the conclusion that brushing your teeth would definitely prevent you from getting Alzheimer's disease," Paganini said.


More Teeth, Less Chance of Alzheimer’s

In 2007, researchers from University of Kentucky discovered that tooth loss may influence the progress of dementia as people age.

144 nuns, age ranging from 75-98, participated in the study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease in the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Their dental records and interview were analyzed and from there they derived that those who have few number of teeth left has a higher chance of getting dementia than those with more teeth.


Gum Bacteria Does Affect the Brain

As the study above based their research on a survey of dental practices, the 2013 study examined how gum disease affects brain tissues.

Scientists from University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) found that bacteria that cause gum disease were also present in brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Porphyromonas gingivalis, the mouth bacteria responsible various chronic gum diseases were also found in the brains samples of four out of ten patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. In comparison, they didn’t find the bacteria in the brain samples of 10 healthy patients.

Daily mouth activities like chewing, eating, brushing and most especially dental treatment enable the bacteria to regularly infiltrate the body’s bloodstream. Once they reach the brain, the brain cells will combat the bacteria by releasing more chemicals as part of its immune system response. The bad part is that the chemicals also kill neurons along with the bacteria, leading to chemical changes in the brain that may cause memory loss and confusion and other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

According to Professor Stjohn Crean, lead researcher and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the university, their research is promising but what they revealed is just “association, not causation.”

Dr. Sim K. Singharo, senior researcher at UCLan believes this is a breakthrough to their theory that gum bacteria may be aggravating, or even, causing brain problems.


“When the brain is repeatedly exposed to bacteria..[the brain’s] immune responses may lead to nerve cell death and possibly memory loss,” Singharo explained.


The researchers believe that with their findings, future Alzheimer’s experts may be able to predict the growth of Alzheimer’s disease in patients by just taking their blood samples and looking for the bacteria as an indicator.

Brushing doesn’t really avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia but it’s still good for you
Some experts still doubt these discoveries.  The Alzheimer’s Society has been contradicting these kinds of “misleading” studies for years, saying there’s not enough proof that bacteria can exacerbate Alzheimer’s disease, and therefore, clean teeth cannot be said to avoid Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. Michael S. Rafii, director of Memory Disorders Clinic remained skeptical about the findings. For him, it is more possible that what made the subjects brush their teeth less often, may be due to early stage of dementia.


“They would be at risk of developing gum disease,” said Rafii. “But the gum disease would have resulted from early dementia, not vice versa.”.

Dr. Doug Brown of Alzheimer’s Society also commented on the limitations of the study – its small number of subjects and the short amount of time. Brown admits that the research may bring proof to the theory that gum diseases may increase Alzheimer’s development but doesn’t agree fully that the relationship is cause and effect.

“[The King’s College London’s findings]  suggests that people who have both Alzheimer’s and gum disease declined in memory...than those who had better dental health,” Brown said. “ But It’s unclear whether... the gum disease is triggering the faster decline of dementia, or vice versa.”

Brown suggests more clinical trials to prove the findings and once solid proof is at hand, “..better dental hygiene would offer a... way to help slow the progression of dementia and enable people to remain independent for longer.”


This discovery also serves as a wake-up call for caregiving institutions and professionals to exert more effort in addressing the oral health care of their constituents. As dementia and early stages of Alzheimer’s disease progress, patients may lose their interest and ability to understand the importance keeping the teeth clean. The task of their oral health may be burdened to the carers and dental hygienists who can guide and support for carers to assist cleaning the teeth of the patients.  

Overall, taking good care of our oral hygiene is still a very sound advice for everyone. Whether or not good oral health can avoid alzheimer’s and dementia, a clean mouth always gives us fresh breath and hinders us from experiencing excruciating pains of tooth decay. As the world continues to search for more clues to the secrets Alzheimer's disease, it wouldn’t hurt to visit the dentist regularly and brush at least twice a day for our own brain’s sake.

Three Proven Tips for Healthy Mouth

1.    Clean your mouth regularly

  • Brush your teeth after waking up, after meals and before sleeping with fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride helps fight decay by strengthening the tooth enamel.

  • Brushing can only clean 50% of your teeth. Only flossing can do the rest. So clean the in between of your teeth at least once a day to get rid stuck food debris that causes tooth decay.

  • Mouthwash shouldn’t be used directly after brushing the teeth to avoid rinsing away the fluoride from the toothpaste.

  • Stop smoking as it can cause tooth stain, tooth loss, gum disease and even mouth cancer.

  • Replace your toothbrush every three months.

  • You can also try coconut oil pulling.


2.    Go to the Dentist Regularly

  • Do not be afraid to visit the dentist, they’re just humans.

  • Visit the dentist at least twice a year to have your teeth cleaned.

  • Most dental issues are not painful. But when cavities are already deep, you’ll be wincing in pain, which means, your gums are already infected by bacteria.

  • Once you feel something doesn’t feel right in your mouth, immediately have it checked.

  • If you’re still anxious, bring a family or a close friend with you.


3.    Keep a Healthy Diet and eat properly.

  • After eating or drinking, wait for an hour before brushing your teeth. This is because the tooth enamel is still soft and its tiny particles may be brushed as well.

  • To protect your teeth and gums, chew a sugar-free gum after eating.

  • Finish a meal with cheese as it lowers the effect of acids from food that may damage your teeth.

  • Schedule eating snacks and sugary foods near meal time to reduce the time that bacteria may attack your teeth

  • Sugar-free sweets and xylitol drinks can help keep your mouth healthy.

  • Eat a variety of foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Fresh vegetables and fruits can help avoid gum diseases.


Bad Food for Mouth:  (highly acidic) pickles, lemons, tomatoes, (sugary) soft drinks, dried fruit, candies, desserts, jams, cereal (starchy) potato chips, white bread, and pasta (dry mouth) alcohol, medicine, energy drinks, coffee (hard food) unpopped corn, ice and hard candy.

Good Food for Mouth: clean water; (calcium rich) cheese, yogurt, low fat milk, almonds, tofu, seafood; (phosphorus-rich) red meat, eggs, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, tofu, fish, broth; (crunchy) celery, apples, cucumbers, carrots; (vitamin D rich) egg yolks, fish, cod liver oil; (Vitamin C) oranges, bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, kale; (Antioxidant) grapes, berries, beans, raisins, nuts; (Probiotics) miso, yogurt, sauerkraut.

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