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Research attempting to establish the connection between oral health and other medical condition has made steady  improvement and can now show links to several chronic medical conditions, proving the impact of good oral health on overall health. One of the newest areas of research concerns the impact on dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease.

There have been suggestions of a link prior to the latest research. For instance, in 2005, the Journal of the American Dental Association noted research by Margaret Gatz PhD et al, who looked at twins, where one had a history of dementia. Potential contributing factors, such as education, activities, health history and other factors were considered. The study concluded that an inflammatory burden early in life, which could include periodontal disease, might have severe consequences later, potentially adding inflammatory processes such a s periodontal disease to the list of preventable risk factors for periodontal disease.

A more recent study, suggests that another risk factors, bacteria (Treponema denticola, Tammerella forsythia, and Porphyronomas, gingivalis and/ or bacteria components)linked to periodontal disease, may play a role in the progression of the Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Researchers  examined 10 AD cases with 12-hours postmortem delay brain tissue from Brains for Dementia Research alongside 10non-AD- age related controls with a similar or greater postmortem interval. SVGp12, an astrocyte cell line, was exposed to culture supernatant containing lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from the putative periodontal bacteria P. gingivalis. Both the AD and control brains were immunoblotted using a battery of antibodies including the anti-P. Labeling indicated that the SVGp12 cell line was able to absorb LPS on its surface membrane 1. Similar labeling was observed in four out of the 10 AD cases. By comparison, all control cases were consistently positive for P. gingivalis LPS (p=0.029).

Although the results were not definitive, they were encouraging and confirm that LPS from periodontal bacteria are able to access an AD brain during life. The revelation that a know , oral pathogen is able to enter the bloodstream, finding its way to and residing in the brain suggest an inflammatory role in AD pathology.  At this time, it is only an association and not a cause.

According to the World Health Organization dementia cases will triple to 115 million in 2050 from 36 million worldwide in 2010. The exact cause of AD remains unknown. Alzheimer’s and periodontal disease appears more prolific as an individual age, which, with more time and research, could show a stronger connection rather than a simple association.

Messaging that will help individuals understand that reducing oral bacteria through good daily oral hygiene as an important step in managing overall health, continues to be a priority for United Healthcare. We actively support research such as this and share with our partners and members information that impacts both oral health and overall health.

Michael Weitzner, DMD, MS, VP National Clinical Operations

Source: Oral & Dental Science Research Group

School of Postgraduate Medical and Dental

Eduaction, University of Central Lancashire Preston, UK.