To some, it may seem impossible that bad (virulent) bacteria in your mouth can affect memory cells in your brain. DNA researchers, however, discovered that bacteria in the mouth that cause periodontitis could move from the mouth to the brain. The most common periodontal bacteria found in patients with Alzheimer’s is Porphyromonas gingivalis, also known as P. gingivalis.
Data from a study in 2016 showed that periodontitis increased the rate of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients and that systemic inflammation interventions may change that effect.
Once the bacteria cross the blood-brain barrier, the bacteria produce enzymes that destroy the brain’s nerve cells, causing memory loss and eventually leading to Alzheimer’s dementia. A recent study found that the plaques recognized as the sign of Alzheimer’s are made from beta-amyloid proteins. These plaques are thought of as the body’s systemic response to the infection of periodontal bacteria.
Naturally, bacteria are not doing this job all on their own. P. gingivalis can form associations with Campylobacter rectus (a bacteria associated with chronic periodontitis (tooth loss) and Prevotella melaninogenica (bacteria in the upper respiratory tract). Those bacterial associations may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.
In 2019, researchers identified that applying small-molecule inhibitors to something called gingipains (part of the enzymes that destroy the brain’s nerve cells) may potentially change the course of the disease.
Does Brushing Teeth Stop Alzheimer’s?
As noted above, P. gingivalis bacteria are not the only reason that people, especially older people, get Alzheimer’s disease. The studies note, however, that the recent population research results do not show causality. The only way to know whether pharmaceutical and intervention treatments of periodontal disease will slow down or prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is to conduct rigorous clinical trials.
An experimental drug called COR388 is currently in phase II/III of clinical trials with respect to the potential treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s Disease. COR388 is a small-molecule inhibitor that blocks gingipains.
In the meantime, everyone – but especially people with genetic risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease – should take extreme care to follow all the steps necessary to prevent periodontal disease in the first place. When educating patients on the importance of preventing periodontal disease, explaining the oral-systemic connection and research like this may give patients the “ah-ha moment” they need to step-up their home care routines and take OHI to heart.