How plaque on your teeth leads to plaque on your brain

There are so many reasons to take your oral health seriously beyond the appeal of having a beautiful smile…

Like the fact that having bad bacteria in your mouth puts you at risk for pneumonia, heart disease and diabetes — three serious diseases that could kill you.

That should be enough motivation to keep up with your bi-annual dental checkups. But in case it’s not, here’s a bit more incentive…

The latest research shows the bacteria in your mouth can take a serious toll on your brain too. In fact, it may even cause Alzheimer’s disease.

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What the bacteria in your mouth does to your brain

A new study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows the bacteria behind periodontal disease (gum disease) may cause inflammation and degeneration in your brain.

Here’s what they found…

Mice who were exposed to bacteria that’s associated with chronic periodontitis experienced some bad brain side effects. They had:

  • More brain inflammation
  • Fewer intact brain cells
  • More amyloid beta — a plaque found in the brain tissue of people with Alzheimer’s

But the negative changes didn’t only take place in the brain. When researchers looked at the genes of these mice, they found that they had a greater expression of genes associated with inflammation and degeneration. They also found that DNA from the dangerous bacteria in your mouth had found it’s way into their brains. Yikes!

Related: 4 supplements that fight aging and gum disease

“Our data not only demonstrate the movement of bacteria from the mouth to the brain, but also that chronic infection leads to neural effects similar to Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Keiko Watanabe, professor of periodontics at the UIC College of Dentistry and corresponding author on the study.

How to prevent periodontal disease

At this point, the gravity of not taking care of your teeth couldn’t be clearer. But what do you need to do to prevent bacteria in your mouth from harming your brain?

Well, first take an honest assessment of your oral health. For example, do you have any unusual symptoms, like:

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Bad breath
  • Gums that look smaller than they used to (a sign of gum recession)
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Teeth that feel loose or like they’re shifting

These could mean that you’re developing periodontal disease already. If that’s the case, you need to visit your dentist for a deep cleaning and possibly even special cleaning procedures like scaling or root planning. These are the only ways to remedy an existing case of periodontal disease.

If your mouth is healthy, then keep up the good work. And make sure to practice daily hygiene habits that prevent periodontal disease, like:

  • Brushing after meals
  • Flossing at least once per day
  • Using an antibacterial mouthwash (I like the kind made with tea tree oil)
  • Eating a healthy, low-sugar diet

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.