Alzheimer’s link shows oral health not “optional extra”

A KEY pathogen in gum disease has been identified in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients and has been implicated in the development of the condition.

Researchers found Porphyromonas gingivalis, the keystone pathogen in chronic periodontitis, in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients and also observed that infection in mice resulted in brain colonisation and increased production of Aβ1–42, a component of amyloid plaques. Their findings have been published in the journal Science Advances.

Proteases from the bacterium, called gingipains, were found to be neurotoxic in vivo and in vitro and the researchers have designed and synthesized small-molecule inhibitors targeting gingipains, which could prove valuable as a treatment of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease.

Commenting on the study, the BDA said these findings demonstrate that oral health should not be treated as an "optional extra". It points out that the last comprehensive dental survey of adults found that gum disease affects nearly half (45 per cent) of the population. The condition varies from mild inflammation to reddened, swollen or bleeding gums and at the advanced stage, loose teeth. Other studies have also found links between poor oral health and other conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.

BDA scientific adviser Professor Damien Walmsley said: "This study offers a welcome reminder that oral health can’t remain an optional extra in our health service. Everyone’s life can be improved by regular appointments and good oral hygiene, reducing the bacterial load that’s ever present in our mouths to a level that’s unlikely to cause tooth decay, gum disease or tooth loss."