Alzheimer’s & Oral Health


Is There a Link Between Alzheimer’s and Oral Health? Here’s what you need to know…

An estimated 6.5 million Americans ages 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s, a progressive and punishing disease that causes brain cells to degenerate and die. In the process, memory and other critical mental functions are greatly diminished. Recent studies published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease further show that there may be a link between oral health and the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s. Key findings indicate that certain bacteria may contribute to the onset of the disease while good oral health can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, heart disease and other serious health risks.

Here’s a recap of what we now know about the link between Alzheimer’s and oral health, along with dental tips for caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease…

“Bad” Bacteria and Alzheimer’s

According to the research, the” bad” bacteria that causes gum disease can eventually travel through the bloodstream to the brain. When this occurs, enzymes called gingipains are released that can destroy nerve cells. In addition, there is a higher presence of amyloid beta, a key bio marker for Alzheimer’s disease. These findings lead researchers to believe that increased levels of healthy bacteria in the mouth provide the balance necessary to help decrease inflammation, which preserves cognitive function and prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Oral Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention

While the Dr. E Cosmetic & Family Dentistry team has always emphasized the importance of good oral hygiene, studies linking periodontal (gum) disease and Alzheimer’s disease (link between Alzheimer’s and oral health) further underscore the importance of taking care of our smiles — especially as we age. Daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits are critical in the prevention of tooth decay, gingivitis and eventual bacteria build up that can potentially travel from the mouth, through the bloodstream and into the brain.

Oral Health Care for Alzheimer’s Patients

What if a loved one has already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia? Alzheimer’s patients experience a gradual memory decline that impacts almost every area of their self-care, including oral hygiene. Some of the common dental care challenges faced by Alzheimer’s patients include:

  • More forgetful about their brushing routine
  • Inability to use a toothbrush properly
  • Gums showing accelerated signs of aging
  • Inability to express to others if they are experiencing any mouth pain
  • Confusion leading to refusal to let others help with their oral hygiene routine

The Alzheimer’s Association shares the following helpful tips geared toward caregivers to help address some of the challenges linked to Alzheimer’s disease and oral care:

  • Watch for warning signals that loved ones might have the inability to articulate, such as wincing when chewing, swollen cheek(s) or jaw, bad breath, etc.
  • For patients with some independence, demonstrate how to brush properly and/or provide short, simple directions to guide them through their oral care routine
  • For loved ones with more advanced stages of the disease, help them brush their teeth twice daily or ensure a caregiver assists with their oral hygiene routine
  • If a loved one is resistant to brushing, try different types of soft-bristled toothbrushes to find one that is gentle yet effective
  • If a patient only opens their mouth briefly for you to brush, try to brush their back teeth first since they are hardest to clean
  • If a loved one routinely won’t let you look at or clean their mouth, contact a dentist right away
  • Assist in properly sanitizing dentures by taking them out of the mouth for at least 4-8 hours daily and rinsing them thoroughly
  • Try to conduct the oral hygiene routine at the same times daily for increased comfort and success
  • Schedule and take loved ones to regular dental appointments with an empathetic dentist who is comfortable assisting Alzheimer’s patients
  • Help your loved one keep a record of dental visits and dental concerns to ensure that as a team you stay on top of their dental health

With evidence linking good oral health to better cognitive function, it is imperative to practice proper oral hygiene as we age. Remember, we’re always here to help our patients and their families at any stage of dental care! Use the above tips and please don’t hesitate to contact the Dr. E Cosmetic & Family Dentistry team if you need assistance or have questions related to Alzheimer’s disease and oral care.

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