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Researchers analyzed brain samples from 10 people with Alzheimer's and 10 people without the brain disease and found gum disease-related bacteria in the brain samples from four of the 10 Alzheimer's patients. No such bacteria was found in the brain samples from people without Alzheimer's.
"This clearly shows that there is an association between oral bacteria and Alzheimer's disease, but not causal association," study author Lakshmyya Kesavalu, an associate professor in the College of Dentistry at the University of Florida, said in a university news release.
The study is the first to show such a link, the researchers said.
Bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream during chewing, brushing, flossing and dental procedures. The bacteria can travel in the blood to the brain and can potentially lead to brain tissue degeneration that appears similar to Alzheimer's, the researchers said.
The study was published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Previous University of Florida research on mice found that gum disease-related bacteria was able to move from the mouth to the brain.
About 64 percent of Americans aged 65 and older have moderate or severe gum (periodontal) disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alzheimer's disease, the leading cause of dementia, affects more than 5 million Americans and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, Oct. 3, 2013