Most of us are aware that poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath – but not brushing your teeth could also have consequences for more serious illnesses.
There is growing evidence to links between poor dental health and other health conditions. In this article, we will lightly delve into the links between: Alzheimer’s/ Dementia, Pancreatic Cancer and Heart Disease.
UK-based researchers from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) followed up some of their previous research in 2013, with a new mouse study in 2014, the results of which were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Medical News Today spoke to co-author Dr. Sim K. Singhrao regarding the findings.
Dr. Singhrao says that there is sufficient scientific evidence to show that two of the three gum disease-causing bacteria are capable of motion (or “motile”) and have been consistently found in brain tissue.
“These motile bacteria can leave the mouth and enter the brain via two main routes,” he explains. “They can use their movement capability to directly enter the brain. One of the paths taken is to crawl up the nerves that connect the brain and the roots of teeth. The other path is indirect entry into the brain via the blood circulation system.”
In a patient who has bleeding gums, says Dr. Singharo, the gum disease-causing bacteria will enter the blood stream every time they clean their mouth and even when they eat food.
A research team from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, MA, were the first to report strong evidence on a link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer, back in 2007.
The other main kind of gum disease – gingivitis; where the tissue around the teeth becomes inflamed – was not linked to increased cancer risk. However, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis if persistent. Gingivitis happens when bacteria in the plaque around the base of the teeth build up due to bad dental hygiene.
Examining data on gum disease from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which involved a cohort of more than 51,000 men and began collecting data in 1986, the Harvard researchers found that men with a history of gum disease had a 64% increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared with men who had never had gum disease.
The greatest risk for pancreatic cancer among this group was in men with recent tooth loss. However, the study was unable to find links between other types of oral health problems – such as tooth decay – and pancreatic cancer.
The researchers suggest that there may be a link between high levels of carcinogenic compounds found in the mouths of people with gum disease and pancreatic cancer risk. They argue that these compounds – called nitrosamines – may react to the digestive chemicals in the gut in a way that creates an environment favorable to the development of pancreatic cancer.
However, a follow-up study from the team in 2012 was unable to prove whether the periodontitis bacteria are a cause or result of pancreatic cancer – the study could only prove that the two were linked.
“This is not an established risk factor,” admitted author Dominique Michaud. “But I feel more confident that something is going on. It’s something we need to understand better.”
Perhaps more well established is the association between dental hygiene and heart disease.
In 2008, MNT reported on research from joint teams at the University of Bristol in the UK and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, who found that people with bleeding gums from poor dental hygiene could be increasing their risk of heart disease.
The researchers found that heart disease risk increased because – in people who have bleeding gums – bacteria from the mouth is able to enter the bloodstream and stick to platelets, which can then form blood clots, interrupting the flow of blood to the heart and triggering a heart attack.
Although some of the associations discussed in todays feature are still under investigation, it is important and without a doubt good dental hygiene remains important for lowering the risk of a variety of very serious conditions.
Is it not worth it to spend a little extra time on good oral hygiene when the benefits are far greater than just avoiding bad breath.