Recent evidence has been released showing a positive correlation between a bacteria found in gum disease and Alzheimer’s.  Gum disease is characterized by red, swollen, painful, and/or bleeding gums. Loose teeth and infection may also be present in gum disease.  Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, difficulty learning new things, difficulty with language, and carrying out multi-step tasks. A hypothesis is that the disease is able to reach the brain due to the close proximity of the upper jaw and the brain.

For years it has been suspected that there might be a link due to the fact that a significant amount of autopsies done on those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s also had various levels of gum disease.   They also found that the risk for Alzheimer’s doubled if the deceased had a diagnosis of gum disease for over ten years. Several skeptics have thought that there is no way the two could be related due to gum disease being an infection of the mouth and the brain being a completely different biological component.

An independent and privately funded research group, Cortexyme,  focuses on degenerative diseases and disorders including Alzheimer’s. They were able to isolate a strain of bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) that has a positive correlation in Alzheimer’s. They were able to verify this in a study where mice were given strains of bacteria associated with gum disease orally. The mice that were administered P. gingivalis began to show nerve damage to the brain.  The same type of nerve damage that is visible in early stages of Alzheimer’s.

With any research, finding a cause gives more resources for finding a cure.  Cortexyme has created a drug , Cor388, that targets P. gingivalis. It has completed phase I trials on humans and deemed safe for administration through  the FDA. A phase I trial determines if the medication is safe and possible side effects. Cortexyme has received enough funding to move onto Phase II. Most phase II studies involve hundreds of patients, could last up to two years to complete.  Phase II studies are randomized trials where one group of patients receive the experimental drug, while a second “control” group receives a standard treatment or placebo.

Although there currently isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, there is a possible cause that could be eliminated with preventative care.  Early detection of gum disease is the best way to prevent more serious complications and can be easily detected with routine visits to your dentist.  And good oral hygiene is always important to keep your gums healthy.