How Healthy Gums Lower Your Risk of Alzheimer’s
Gum disease, which occurs when bacteria that remain on the teeth infect the gums, can cause your teeth to loosen or fall out. In addition, bacteria from infected gums can travel throughout your body. Scientists are learning more about the long-term effects of this, including how there may be a connection to developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is a common type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Most people with Alzheimer’s are older than 65, but it isn’t a normal part of aging. The disease gets worse over time and interferes with daily activities.
Gum Disease May Increase Risk
Researchers are finding that gum disease bacteria may lead to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and that it may make the disease get worse faster in those who have it.
Bacteria from gum disease (also called periodontitis) don’t actually cause Alzheimer’s, but their presence makes it more likely that someone will develop the disease. Researchers are still trying to understand why this might be.
Keeping Gums Healthy
Taking good care of your teeth can protect your gums and help to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Make sure to:
Brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice a day, in the morning and before you go to bed. Regular brushing and flossing help to remove the bacteria that cause gum disease from your teeth. This is especially important if you have gingivitis, a condition that can progress to periodontitis, and/or a family history of Alzheimer’s.
Floss at least once a day. Twice a day is ideal.
Get your teeth cleaned regularly. Only a professional cleaning can remove tartar, which is filled with bacteria. Most people should have their teeth professionally cleaned every six months. You may need more frequent cleanings if you have gum disease or are at increased risk of developing it.
Risk Factors for Gum Disease
People who don’t practice good oral hygiene increase their risk for periodontitis. Certain medications, including oral contraceptives, anti-depressants and some heart medications, can cause gum changes that increase risk. Other risk factors include:
- Being age 65 or older
- Conditions that decrease immunity, including HIV/AIDS
- Crohn’s disease
- Family history
- Inadequate nutrition, including not enough vitamin C
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Smoking cigarettes or using chewing tobacco
- Smoking marijuana or vaping
- Teeth clenching or grinding.
In addition to keeping your gums healthy, there’s growing evidence that other lifestyle choices might help reduce Alzheimer’s risk. These include:
- Participating in regular physical activity
- Taking classes and continuing to learn throughout life
- Protecting your heart health
- Avoiding head injuries by wearing a seat belt in the car and a helmet while riding your bike
- Getting enough sleep
- Taking care of your mental health
- Staying social
- Playing strategic games like bridge.