By Annamaria Cavaleri ‘22
Periodontal disease is a common but preventable gum infection that produces bacteria. Recent studies performed by researchers at the University of Chicago (UIC) show that long-term exposure to periodontal disease bacteria causes inflammation and degeneration of neurons in the brains of mice. This is similar to the effects that Alzheimer’s disease has on humans, a disease that currently has no treatment or cure. This suggests a possible link between Periodontal disease bacteria and Alzheimer’s in humans (1).
Dr. Keiko Watanabe, periodontics professor at UIC, and her team established chronic periodontitis – characterized by soft tissue damage and oral cavity bone loss – in 10 mice. They used another 10 mice as the control group. The brain health of the mice was studied and compared after 22 weeks of repeated oral application of the bacteria to the group studied.
The team of researchers found that mice exposed to the bacteria had a significantly higher concentration of accumulated amyloid beta. This is a plaque found in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A bacterial protein from the periodontal bacteria was also found inside of their neurons, as well as periodontal bacteria DNA inside of their brain tissue.
These findings highlighted the rapid movement of bacteria from the mouth to the brain, and how chronic infection leads to neurological effects similar to those caused by Alzheimer’s. This study is significant because understanding causes and factors that put you at risk for disease is critical to developing the proper treatment for an illness that is yet to have a cure. It also emphasizes the importance of oral hygiene and taking care of one’s personal health.
- V. Ilievski, et. al., Chronic oral application of a periodontal pathogen results in brain inflammation, neurodegeneration and amyloid beta production in wild type mice. PLOS ONE 13 (10) (2018).
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