Gingivitis Associated with Alzheimer’s Risk

Maintaining oral health may contribute to maintaining cognitive health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant


Researchers believe that gingivitis may raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

A study from Broegelmanns Research Laboratory at University of Bergen included 53 persons with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers had previously discovered that the bacteria causing gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain where the harmful enzymes they excrete can destroy the nerve cells in the brain.

Now, for the first time, researchers discovered DNA evidence for this process from human brains.

Lead researcher Piotr Mydel and his team examined brain tissue, salivary samples and spinal fluid samples and found the enzyme in 96% of the cases, along with an increase in production of the amyloid beta, a compound of the plaque that contributes to Alzheimer’s.

 That doesn›t mean gingivitis has a causal relationship with Alzheimer›s disease.

“This is a preliminary study,” said Alexandra Tsigarida, program director of the periodontics program at Eastman Institute of Oral Health. “There’s [only] association at this time.”

The study’s size is also too small to prove a causal effect; however, Tsigarida said that researchers learned that bacteria can travel from the mouth to the brain, which could indicate a biological role oral health plays in development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We cannot say it’s the only way Alzheimer’s is caused, but potentially one of the factors that contribute to it,” Tsigarida said. “If you have a healthy mouth, you can expect to have a healthier body. It doesn’t mean who doesn’t brush and floss will have Alzheimer’s.

“There’s a good association but we need more research. We have it pretty well documented the link between gum disease and heart disease. Our mouth is part of our body. The better the oral hygiene, the better for overall health.”

Whether it’s related to Alzheimer’s disease or not, maintaining good oral health is important. Rob Buhite, II, dentist with Buhite & Buhite, DDS in Rochester, explained that gingivitis is an inflammatory response in the gum tissue. Many people don’t realize they have gingivitis since it’s not painful, but they may notice bleeding in their gums that doesn’t go away.


Dental plaque, also called bio-film, are bacteria deposits on the teeth. They require manual removal or else they will cause inflammation and swelling. Buhite said that left untreated, gingivitis can cause “deleterious effects in the substructure and bone loss. That’s peritonitis.”

He agrees with the research that oral health is related to the rest of the body’s health, and that gingivitis may correlate to development of Alzheimer’s disease.

To keep the mouth healthy, he said that people need to brush after meals, floss daily, and use an antibacterial dental rinse such as Listerine. Using a waterpik brush can also help break up biofilm, he said.

“If you’re concerned about using a product, the best way to prove its validity is to look for the American Dental Association seal of acceptance,” Buhite said. “That means that material has been researched and proven to do exactly what it says.”

He also advises visiting the dentist for a cleaning and exam every six months, or more often if advised to do so. Some people have underlying conditions or take medication that necessitates more frequent professional oral healthcare. But the most important aspect is home care.

“What you do day to day makes a big difference,” Buhite said.