Brushing and flossing teeth may be key to reducing Alzheimer's risk

Brushing your teeth regularly may be a key part of preventing the development of Alzheimer's disease, a new study concludes. Poor oral hygiene ultimately results in the development of gingivitis, a gum disease, in many people. The bacteria involved in gingivitis may drive the development of memory problems and even Alzheimer's disease in individuals with this inflammatory condition.

Gingivitis is a fairly common condition involving swollen, red, and irritated gums. This condition results from the build-up on plaque involving a bacteria that produces toxins; these toxins, in turn, irritate the gums, causing the issues associated with gingivitis. It may be this same toxin-producing bacteria that drives the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The study comes out of the University of Bergen, which found that the bacteria behind gingivitis may make its way into the patient's brain. A protein produced by this bacteria ultimately destroys nerve cells in the brain, resulting in the slow loss of memory and potentially the formation of Alzheimer's disease.

Though the bacteria on its own isn't likely to result in Alzheimer's, it may play a critical role in triggering the development of this disease — and, the study found, may speed up the disease's progression. Preventative steps are simple and commonly performed, however, requiring only a few dollars and minutes of one's time: brushing and flossing teeth.

This isn't the first study to find that the the bacteria behind gingivitis can transition from the mouth to the brain where harmful enzymes are produced. This latest research, however, is the first to identify DNA evidence for this process in the human brain. Of the 53 Alzheimer's patients studied as part of this research, 96-percent of them had the harmful enzyme.