Q: My dentist told me that poor dental/oral health can increase the risk for Alzheimer’s. Is this just an urban legend to generate more dentistry business?
A: Not at all! Your dentist keeps up with the medical news. The link between poor oral health and cardio-vascular disease is long established. More recently researchers are exploring the so-called gut-brain axis. By now we all know that the tube that runs from our mouth to our rectum is chock full of bugs. Hold on now, don’t we have way better dental care than our ancestors, and wasn’t there less dementia back then? Well, yes but we are living longer (and have better ability to diagnose neurological degeneration) and we also have a lot of microflora-disrupting stuff posing as “food” that is marketed to go down the hatch. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but it never fails to shock me walking into a super-store and see the aisles upon aisles of fluffed up GMO-laced corn-carbs with artificial flavorings. Protect your brain! Don’t walk down these aisles.
The several areas in the mouth (throat, tongue, gums, tooth surfaces) each function according to their different environmental conditions and location. The throat and tongue surface cells are constantly shedding, creating a complex environment that bacteria must adapt to in order to form a functional “community” which protects these sub-environments. The throat, tongue, and tooth enamel constantly deal with saliva being washed over the surface, but the gingival crevices and crypts are protected. However, even with the differences these areas all share some similarities. The mucosa covered surfaces are prime targets for bacteria to adhere, so bacteria are found on the throat, tongue, teeth, and gums no matter how healthy someone tries to be. Some of the common genuses of bacteria throughout the mouth are Streptococci, Neisseria, Fusobacterium, Prevotella, and other anaerobic bacteria. Recent research has shown that Parkinson’s patients are low in Prevotella bugs in their mouth and gut, and this is part of why PD patients can’t form an adequate quantity of dopamine. The good bugs that reside throughout our bodies work in many ways; largely by helping to digest nutrients so they can be absorbed, and also by helping to form enzymes and neurotransmitters. That’s right. Our good bugs are like tiny robots that help power the manufacture of adrenaline, cortisol, serotonin, GABA, etc. The mouth is subjected to constant environmental changes, and any disturbance to the conditions of the mouth lead to changes in the microflora. When conditions are disrupted, and the helpful bacteria are outnumbered by pathogenic bacteria, diseases, both local and systemic, can occur. Some of the same bacteria that cause bad breath on the tongue will cause periodontal disease between the gum and the tooth surface. Although each sub-niche is different rules, their collective actions and inhabitants affect the whole mouth community and is one of the most widely researched areas of the human body to understand microflora.
Bottom line: brush and floss your teeth twice daily. If your teeth are irregularly spaced, also consider water-piking. Always rinse your mouth out right after eating anything, even a little tiny snack. Eat lively foods (pickles, yogurt, Kimchee) and raw foods daily. Go easy on animal products, or go vegan. Check it out. You might feel even better!