DNA science helps researchers investigate the connections between bacteria and disease in ways that were previously impossible. For example, an international team of scientists recently determined that Porphyromonas gingivalis, an oral bacteria commonly found in patients with periodontitis, is highly prevalent in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Follow-up research confirmed that P. gingivalis readily moves from the infected mouth to brain tissues, where it causes significant neural damage.
The study team for this collection of experiments came together from universities and labs in nearby San Francisco (UCSF), as well as the distant states of Kentucky (University of Louisville) and Massachusetts (both Cambridge and Harvard). International contributors worked in Poland, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. Together they examined whether or not P. gingivalis was found in the brain, what sort of damage it did to brain tissue, and how that damage might be prevented. Their results were published in the journal Science Advances.
From the standpoint of the Sacramento Dentistry Group, one of their most important findings is that this bacteria is more likely to be found in people with gum disease. Therefore, preventing gum disease is the best way to avoid infection with P. gingivalis. And doing that may be as simple as following a daily regimen of oral hygiene and vising one of our dentists twice a year for a check-up and cleaning.
Gum Disease Bacteria and the Brain?
P. gingivalis causes tissue damage by releasing chemicals called gingipains into the surrounding environment. Gingipains come in different varieties and each makes colonization easier for bacterial cells. For example, one gingipain promotes inflammation in surrounding host cells. This leads to cell death and creates space for bacterial colonization. Another gingipain prevents the control of bleeding by damaging blood clotting factors. Still another prevents the immune system from effectively attacking P. gingivalis. All of these measures help the bacterium acquire resources from its host while preventing its elimination by immune cells. When gingipains are released in the brain by P. gingivalis, they directly damage the neurons and affect the chemicals that promote proper brain function. The researchers linked this damage to the abnormalities found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Do Gum Disease Bacteria Really Travel to the Brain?
To confirm the transfer of P. gingivalis from the mouth to the brain, the researchers used mice instead of human subjects. Mature mice were infected with the target bacteria over a six-week period and then tested for the presence of P. gingivalis in the brain tissue. All of the subject animals tested positive for the bacterium. Interestingly, administering a gingipain inhibitor that prevents gingipain activity also eliminated the cerebral infection. What’s more, these inhibitors also succeeded in reducing oral infection with P. gingivalis, an important finding for patients with chronic gum disease.
How These Findings Are Helpful to Our Patients
First, the results emphasize the need to treat gum disease as a dangerous link to far greater medical problems, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, gum disease deserves prompt treatment by dental professionals and not a “do-it-yourself” approach. Patients with specific risk factors, such as heart disease or early-onset dementia may be benefited by receiving more than two dental cleanings per year.
Second, gum disease prevention through twice-daily toothbrushing and daily flossing is essential not just to preserve the teeth, but to also maintain overall good health.
Third, a better understanding of how gum disease bacteria cause damage to cell tissues as they colonize the human body is leading to new modes of treatment for the dental professional.
As always, the Sacramento Dentistry Group pays close attention to new developments in the dental field and seeks to offer the best possible treatments for our clients. Contact us or read more to see how we can help you maintain a healthy mouth and body!