Brains and Bugs

Barbara Tritz
· June 11, 2023 ·

5 minutes

Do your gums bleed? Have they “always bled” when you had a dental cleaning? What would you do if I told you that gum disease increases your risk for dementia? And IF they have been infected for over 10 years your chance of having Alzheimer’s dementia increases by 70%.

Yes, 70% – Would that motivate you to see your wonderful brain health dental hygienist?

Dental infections, both tooth decay and gum disease, as well as crowded teeth, tooth decay, tooth loss, and airway issues all affect brain health. More on tooth decay and tooth loss in tomorrow’s post.

In a previous post – Defeat Dementia we talked about how sleep apnea makes the blood-brain barrier permeable. Today we will review the “bugs” in the mouth especially those bad ones that scamper across those permeable membranes and set up housekeeping in the brain.

Good Bugs of the Mouth

Before we talk about the bad bugs connected to dementia (and they are also connected to heart attack, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. but that’s for another time). We first need to clarify this: the bad bugs make up only one percent of the oral microbiome. The “good bugs” are supposed to be there. We need to eat foods that feed our oral microbiome. We don’t want a sterile mouth. The good guys help us in numerous ways. They protect us from bad bugs, they help our immune system function properly and they make nitric oxide. We do not want to kill all of them. Foods that feed our oral microbiome are called prebiotics. They are high fiber foods like whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, apples, seaweed, and asparagus. Probiotics are live bacteria that help prepopulate the oral microbiome. Fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt are filled with healthy live bacteria. Nutrition plays a big role in oral health and systemic wellness. More on nutrition later this month.

A quick dental pearl for you: antibacterial mouthwashes are NOT good for you. They kill too many good bacteria. When that happens our nitric oxide levels plummet. Nitric oxide (NO) is important for our health. Current research says we need NO to open up our blood vessels, and when there is not enough NO, blood pressure goes up. Antibacterial mouthwash is directly connected to high blood pressure. You do not need mouthwash. Instead, bio botanicals might be a better answer. They kill the bad bugs and don’t harm the good ones. We need to have the right level of all bugs.

The Bad Bugs of Gum Disease

There are several bad bacteria as well as viruses that cause dental problems and have been directly connected to creating inflammation in the brain and contributing to dementia. The research is showing that our oral pathogens cross the blood-brain barrier. And, no surprise to those in the dental field – they create the same inflammation and plaque biofilm they do in the mouth, with the same results.

The brain is making the amyloid beta and tau tangles to PROTECT itself from the toxins these pathogens excrete. The brain is so smart. Unfortunately, the bacteria may be smarter.

Focal Infection and Periodontitis: A Narrative Report and New Possible Approaches – PMC (nih.gov)

Spirochetes

Spirochetes are corkscrew-shaped bacteria. There are 57 varieties of spirochetes, and at least eight of them are implicated in periodontal (gum) disease. These bacteria are quite distinctive on my phase contrast microscope video screen. They have flagella that propel them both forward and backward. They can screw themselves into dental plaque, blood cells, mucus, nerves, and connective tissue. They cause tissue damage and can evade the host’s immune response. They even change shape, going into spore form which can hide within the body for years and years (even decades). They work slowly in the brain creating biofilms.

Phase contrast microscopy testing, Seeing is believing.
Dental spirochetes have been found in the brains of 93.7% of dementia patients.

Porphyromonas Gingivalis

Another bad actor is Porphyromonas gingivalis (P.g).

P.g. is the keystone pathogen of the oral cavity. He’s the leader of the orchestra, so to speak. It just takes a little bit of this bacteria to change the biofilm from healthy to dysbiotic. P.g. has also been found in the brains of dementia patients on autopsy. These bacteria excrete a toxic enzyme called gingipains which creates neuronal damage in the brain.

I cannot distinguish him from the other rods on my phase contrast microscope. However, when I see spirochetes on the screen, I suspect P.g. is hanging around since they are “best friends” along with a third bad actor bacteria named Tannerella forsythia. They form a consortium, and all work together to create chronic periodontitis.

P.g. has also been found in the arteries of 100% of patients with cardiovascular disease.

Viruses

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) is the virus we should really be concerned about, especially if you carry the APOE-4 gene. This virus is a strong risk for dementia. Also getting in on the virus-dementia picture is Human Herpes Virus 6 (HHV6). Viruses are too small to see on the phase contrast microscope.

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Don’t Guess, Time to Test

So, what’s a patient to do? Stop ignoring bleeding gums, bone loss, and bad breath. Be your own health advocate and request testing, especially for children. (I have seen five-year-olds with this level of spirochetes which leads me to wonder if that is not the beginning of laying the foundation for dementia 40 years in the making…)

Test – don’t guess
Salivary Diagnostics – a number of pathogens are over the blue threshold line.

Salivary diagnostic testing is your best tool. We cannot guess, we need answers, and the sooner the better. Should you have any of these pathogens you should start dental therapy and antivirals immediately. Work with a knowledgeable primary care provider along with your dental team. Test, treat, and retest until the test results show your mouth is healthy. Your dental professionals are your brain health specialist.

This is about more than just brushing and flossing. This is about oral health’s connection to systemic health, heart health, and brain health. This is for the whole enchilada! Ninety percent of dementia is due to a lifestyle choice. It is not inevitable. Bleeding gums, bad breath, and tooth loss are signs of INFLAMMATION and need to take seriously. Ignoring this is a lifestyle choice.

We can “replace teeth” (I realize that’s not as good as the real thing). We cannot replace your brain. It is time to be smarter and more proactive than the pathogens.

You owe it to your brain to really and truly have a healthy mouth.

Your brain is so very precious. Let’s protect it. Call for a dental health appointment today.

Barbara Tritz BRDH

Queen of Salivary Diagnostics, Brain Health and Oral Wellness Specialist

Hello, I'm Barbara Tritz

Unveiling the Stories Behind Dental Hygiene

Loving science, especially biology, from an early age, Barbara is a registered dental hygienist, certified biological hygienist, and orofacial myofunctional therapist. In 2019, she received the Hu-Friedy/ADHA Master Clinician Award from the American Dental Hygienist Association.

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