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Study: Bacteria associated with gum disease may be tied to Alzheimer's

August 2, 2013

Commitment to oral hygiene can help you have fresh breath, but could it also be a hallmark of healthy aging? The results of a new study suggest yes. A team of researchers from England's University of Central Lancashire discovered that a bacteria commonly associated with gum disease is also sometimes found in the brains of seniors with dementia, according to results published in the Journal of  Alzheimer's Disease.

To measure the presence of the bacteria, known as Porphyromonas gingivalis, researchers looked at the brains of 10 subjects who died as a result of Alzheimer's and compared them to the brains of 10 others who passed away due to other causes. The team discovered the bacteria in the brains of four out of the 10 Alzheimer's subjects, but it was present in none of the 10 non-Alzheimer's brains. Lead author StJohn Crean said the findings are good news but they should be looked at cautiously.

"The results are very encouraging," Crean told Bloomberg. "We've shown an association, not causation. It does nothing more than to prove that these bacteria do get to the brain."

There are reasons to wait for more research to come out, according to AARP. The study had a small sample size, and it's hard to know whether gum disease caused dementia or Alzheimer's patients simply neglected their oral health, AARP notes.

This isn't the first time experts have suggested that your dental health could have a far reaching impact, but some of those relationships have been questioned in recent years. For instance, there had been some evidence that gum disease was tied to an increased risk of heart disease, but in 2012, the American Heart Association reviewed hundreds of previously conducted studies and concluded there was no substantial proof of the correlation.