The same bacteria, P. Gingivalis, which causes gum disease, can be found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.
My dear friend Gary Glazner, founder of the well established Alzheimer’s Poetry Project gave me a beautiful opportunity to be in the presence of those suffering from memory loss. It was extremely rewarding for me to volunteer using poetry to engage these institutionalized individuals. I experienced highs, many of which were when my young daughter accompanied me where she sparked joy in the patients, and lows from witnessing deterioration or when someone I grew fond of had passed.
One of my favorite stories was when I brought my daughter to an Alzheimer’s home on a summer afternoon. I came prepared with the theme “Fourth of July,” for our poetry call and response, where we call out lines of pertaining poems and the group repeats back to us. Eventually, we work the room to write a group poem, and our goal that day was to write about Independence Day. For some reason, this particular session wasn’t going well with low engagement and low energy; we hardly wrote a poem. My daughter Willa and I looked at each other in defeat and ended early. As we were exiting the main doors to leave I heard a faint singing, and asked Willa “Do you hear that?” We both let out the biggest smiles as the lyrics to America The Beautiful amplified into a group chorus.
Little did I know the reward I received in working with the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project would be a portent to my responsibility as a hygienist to emphasize the prevention of gingivitis as a possible deterrent to Alzheimer’s disease.
Science Advances has recently published a study finding the same periodontal disease microbe P. Gingivalis found in the oral cavity of humans can be found in the brain of those with alzheimer’s disease (AD). Furthermore, the P. gingivalis antigen gingipains were found in AD brains which are toxic and effect neuro function. They began with a study over a 6 month period observing AD patients with chronic periodontal disease as well as those without perio disease and discovered a notable decline in cognition for those with AD accompanied by periodontal disease.
The study introduced P. gingivalis into the oral cavities of mice for 6 weeks to create infection. Their brains were then studied and P. gingivalis along with gingipains were found. When an experimental gingipain inhibitor drug was given it resulted in the reduction of brain infection and inflammation by reducing the P. gingivalis and also encouraged new neurons in the hippocampus, the first place to be damaged in the brain with AD. This drug is currently being tested in human clinical studies with those diagnosed with AD.
Some scientists claim P. gingivalis is a contributing factor to AD but are not convinced this microbe is the sole cause of the disease. The study also found a strain of P. gingivalis in spinal fluid and stated further research was needed to understand the different strains of this bacteria and the virulency they have in the brain.
Interesting to note; the other gingipain producing bacteria, P. gulae, naturally lives in dog’s mouths and have been found in the mouths of their owners. Research is currently underway to discover if P. gulae has a role in AD.
There is no doubt we have a lot to learn about bacteria and a long way to go in discovering all the different microbes that exist in the human body. Until recently, it was believed we were made up of more bacterial cells than human cells, but now bacterial cells are thought to be equal to human cells, yet we still don’t understand the many roles they have, both healthy and destructive.
P. gingivalis is found in 25% of all healthy mouths and this is why I always emphasize how crucial it is to maintain healthy bacteria in the mouth which aids in the resistance to potentially destructive bacteria. When I discuss dental products it’s always with suggestions to use the least disruptive to your healthy flora and to recognize what assists in a neutral or non-acidic PH which discourages the overgrowth of periodontal disease bacteria.
The migration of P. gingivalis into a variety of tissue is already well known:
Coronary Arteries – studies have shown 100% of patients with cardiovascular disease had P. gingivalis in their arteries.
The Placenta – causing low birth weight in babies.
The Liver – affects glycogen synthesis.
My role as a hygienist is to encourage you to have a healthy, non-infected mouth to prevent the many diseases we know of and the ones yet to be discovered. Alzheimer’s disease is well on its way to being linked to gingivitis bacteria, to what extent is yet to be known. A healthy mouth is a mirror to a healthy body. I like to think of it this way: Good dental habits are one of the easiest things most people can be in control of when so many other disease-causing factors are at play which are beyond our control. Do everything you possibly can to empower your overall health by seeking knowledge and treating your body as well as you can.