Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most tragic diseases. While the disease can affect younger people, it most often affects the elderly. Everyone fears the symptoms, which include the loss of motor function and the decline of memory. In the late stages, sufferers may forget even close friends and family.
Millions of people must face the fear that comes with Alzheimer’s. Tens of thousands of people receive the diagnosis every year, and 5.8 million live with the disease in the US alone.
The tragic nature of the symptoms has inspired research toward a cure all over the world. Billions of dollars have been spent to determine the causes and risk factors, with hopes of finding a way to halt the progress of the disease or even keep it from developing in the first place.
Recently, researchers have discovered a surprising link between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease that may offer a real path toward prevention.
"1 in 5 people who are 65 years and older are believed to suffer from gum disease. Slightly more than 1 in 10 have cases that are considered to be moderate to severe."
DR. RANA G. SHAHI, DDS, MS, MSD
Diplomate, American Board of Periodontology
Gum Disease and the Elderly
One in 5 people who are 65 years and older are believed to suffer from gum disease. Slightly more than 1 in 10 have cases that are considered to be moderate to severe. They are also more likely to develop chronic gum disease that is resistant to treatment.
Those with severe cases are most likely to produce the bacteria that have been implicated in the study.
The higher number of cases among the elderly comes down to many factors that are related to age, genetics, and habits. The elderly are more susceptible to the following problems that increase the risk of gum disease.
The gums naturally begin to recede in later years, which creates a more dangerous environment for teeth. The gums are one of the most important defenses for the lower parts of each tooth. The areas that become exposed over time are far more sensitive and less resistant to bacteria than the areas protected by enamel.
It may not be possible to prevent the natural receding of the gums. However, there are dental treatments that can correct it when it has reached an advanced stage. Those who experience gum loss should always consult their dentists before gum disease develops.
Saliva is another essential defense system for teeth, but older adults may produce less of it for a variety of reasons. Some dryness comes from age alone. The glands become less active and produce less saliva throughout the day.
The elderly are also more prone to many conditions that have dry mouth as a side effect. Diabetes, strokes, and several auto-immune conditions may disrupt the function of the salivary glands. Additionally, many medications designed to treat other conditions can cause dry mouth, as does chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
While the elderly do not necessarily use tobacco or alcohol at higher rates than other age groups, the effects on the body can be cumulative. Even those who drink and smoke in moderation may see more serious side effects, such as susceptibility to gum disease, develop after decades of use.
Regenerative procedures can reverse some of the damage by regenerating lost bone and tissue. LA Periodontics & Implant Specialists employs the latest scientifically supported and advanced techniques in reversing damage and salvaging teeth.
How the Elderly Can Prevent Gum Disease
Those who are 65 years of age or older should be careful to exercise healthy habits.
Most Important Habits
- Brush your teeth and floss daily, especially after meals
- Cease the use of tobacco, including both smoke tobacco and chew
- Report all gum bleeding, pain and redness to your dentist as soon as possible
Unfortunately, even the best oral hygiene habits may not be enough for everyone. Age and genetic factors can overcome even the best habits. New medicines, however, may offer new ways to keep gum disease from interacting with the brain.
Will New Medicines Be Able To Help?
Some important and promising news followed an Alzheimer's study published last year. The bacteria-produced enzyme that causes the neuron damage has been identified, and work has already begun on a drug that may be able to block it from interacting with neurons.
It is important to note that this bacteria has not been identified as the sole reason for the decline of neurons in Alzheimer's. Further testing may better define the role that it plays and what kind of effect blocking it has on the progression of the disease.
The drug is set to begin testing and clinical trials in late 2019. There is currently no timeline for when the drug will be available on the market.
DR. RANA G. SHAHI
DDS, MS, MSD
Diplomate, American Board of Periodontology