The oral bacteria that can crawl into your brain

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The oral bacteria that can crawl into your brain

It might sound like a horror movie but the fact is, if you have certain species of pathogenic oral bacteria in your gums, they could be slowly making their way into your brain as you read this. These bacteria among 100s of others responsible for oral health issues, including tooth decay, cavities and periodontal disease (or gum disease).

The bacterial invaders identified so far

UK researchers have identified three bacterial species (see below) capable of entering the brain:

  • Porphyromonas gingivalis (left),
  • Treponema denticola (centre), and
  • Tannerella forsythia (right).

How do they get there?

First off, all of these bugs need to establish colonies in plaque and calculus. That’s easy for them if you fail to maintain a proper oral hygiene routine that includes brushing your teeth twice daily and visiting your dentist every 6 months.

Next, once firmly established in the periodontal tissues (below your gum line), they can infect surrounding soft tissue and bone. That’s when you start to develop periodontal pockets and gum disease. Along with these oral conditions, you may start experiencing symptoms such as bleeding gums – their first point of exit to the rest of the body.

All they have to do then is to wait until the next bleeding event – triggered by brushing your teeth or eating food – when they hitch a ride on your red blood cells along the blood stream super highway straight into your brain. And it’s a fairly easy entry for them since your brain lacks immune checkpoints.

The other way two of the mentioned bacteria can access your brain tissue is quite unique. Since they are motile (the ability to move), they can creep along the nerve fibres that connect your tooth roots to your brain.

What happens once they get there?

In short, they can settle in biofilms (similar to the plaque on your teeth) in the areas of your brain related to memory. When your immune system eventually cottons on to what is happening, it will respond and attack the bacteria.

Now that’s okay as a one off, but repeated daily exposure to these oral bacteria and their by-products, can result in neuron and nerve cell death in your brain according to UK researchers in a 2014 study. As such, the presence of oral bacteria in the brain and the associated side-effects has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Browns Plains Alzheimer’s disease

Stop them at the gates!

Once P. Gingivalis and company are in your system, it can be rather difficult to get them out completely. That’s why proper oral care and regular visits to a dental hygienist throughout your life are so important – to prevent these bugs from entering your body in the first place.


Poole, S., Singhrao, S. K., & Crean, S. J. (2014). Emerging evidence for associations between periodontitis and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Faculty Dental Journal, 5(1), 38-42. doi:10.1308/204268514×13859766312719

Singhrao, S. K., Harding, A., Poole, S., Kesavalu, L., & Crean, S. (2015). Porphyromonas gingivalis Periodontal Infection and Its Putative Links with Alzheimer’s Disease. Mediators of inflammation, 2015, 137357.

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Browns-Plains-dentist-Oral-bacteria -affect-the-health

How oral bacteria can affect the rest of your body

On 20 March 2018, World Oral Health Day focused on the theme “Healthy mouth, healthy body”. Why? Because having a healthy mouth is a crucial part of maintaining good overall health and well-being. If you have healthy teeth and gums, you can chew and digest your food well, and your body is able to absorb the maximum nutritional benefits.

The mouth-body connection is also important since poor oral health is associated with other general health disorders, such as osteoporosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But one aspect of oral health that is often overlooked is the impact oral bacteria may have on the rest of your body.

Oral bacteria can invade other parts of your body

Your mouth houses a large community of about 600 bacterial species. Some are good, a lot are bad. That’s why we brush our teeth and tongue – to get rid of them. If there are too many bacterial microbes colonising your mouth then their by-products can cause tooth decay and gum disease.
But it doesn’t stop there. If your immune system has been compromised, due to age, poor nutrition, illness, disease or the side effects of medication, bacterial organisms can start invading other parts of your body.

Browns-Plains-dentist-Oral-bacteria -affect-the-body

What parts of the body can oral bacteria affect?

  • Heart – Oral bacteria that enter the bloodstream can affect blood vessels or cause blood clots. This can increase general inflammation which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • Lungs – Oral bacteria aspirated from the mouth, as you breathe in, can cause an anaerobic infection of the lungs which can lead to a higher risk of pneumonia, especially in the elderly.
  • Joints – Oral bacteria that enter the bloodstream are a contributing factor in the cause and development of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Bones – The presence of both oral bacteria and oesteoporosis can accelerate the weakening, breakdown and loss of alveolar bone in the jaw.

The best ways to control oral bacteria

It is essential to control oral bacteria by taking good care of your teeth and gums. Brushing twice daily, flossing once a day and visiting your dentist for regular checkups are the best ways to control oral bacteria, and reduce your risk of developing other general health disorders.


Brennan-Calanan, R., Genco, R., Wilding, G., Hovey, K., Trevisan, M., & Wactawski-Wende, J. (2008). Osteoporosis and Oral Infection: Independent Risk Factors for Oral Bone Loss. Journal of Dental Research, 87(4), 323-327. doi:10.1177/154405910808700403

Harvard Health Publishing. (2015, May 20). Heart disease and oral health: role of oral bacteria in heart plaque – Harvard Health. Retrieved from

Ogrendik, M. (2009). Rheumatoid arthritis is linked to oral bacteria: etiological association. Modern Rheumatology, 19(5), 453-456. doi:10.1007/s10165-009-0194-9
Terpenning, M. (2005). Geriatric Oral Health and Pneumonia Risk. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 40(12), 1807-1810. doi:10.1086/430603

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Oral bacteria linked to the development and progression of oesophageal cancer

Oral bacteria linked to the development and progression of oesophageal cancer

Researchers from the Kumamoto University, Japan, were prompted by previous studies* to conduct a study on the role that a type of oral bacterium called Fusobacterium nucleatum has in the development and progression of oesophageal cancer.

Fusobacterium nucleatum is a pathogenic oral bacterium that is well known as a gum disease bug commonly found in dental plaque and periodontal lesions.

choice-dental oral bacteria oesophageal cancer imagesCurrent research shows that F. nucleatum plays a significant role in the development of periodontal disease. It is also associated with invasive infections of the head, neck, chest, lungs, liver and abdomen, and can act as a “bridge” for other late-arrival bacterial organisms to our tooth surfaces and gum tissue. Of note, F. nucleatum has the deceptive ability to deregulate our immune response, as well as secrete specialised proteins called chemokines, which are known to promote interaction between cancer cells.

In the first stage of the Japanese study, researchers used a real-time laboratory analysis technique (QRT PCR) to assess DNA from the cancer tissue of 325 patients. All of these patients underwent surgery to have their oesophageal cancer removed at Kumamoto University Hospital.

The researchers detected and identified the F.nucleatum bacterium DNA in the cancer tissue of 74 patients of the test group, or about 23%. They found that F.nucleatum DNA positivity was significantly associated with the stage (or size) of the tumour, but not with other factors such as age, gender, tobacco use, alcohol use or tumour location.

In the next stage of the study, the researchers made a comparison of the post-surgery survival time of the patients who tested positive for F.nucleatum with those who tested negative. Their findings showed that patients with F.nucleatum present in their cancer tissue had a much shorter survival time as well as more aggressive tumour behaviour (via activation of chemokines).

Further comparative analysis also showed significantly higher levels of F.nucleatum present in cancerous tissue as opposed to normal tissue.

Lead author, Professor Hideo Baba reported, “This study suggested that the oral cavity bacterium F. nucleatum may be involved in the development and progression of esophageal cancer via chemokines”.

Further research is still needed to determine how the F. nucleam bacterium interacts with the development and progression of oesophageal cancer. But given its reputation so far, it is definitely one oral bacterium that we should best avoid through regular brushing, flossing and dental check-ups.

* F.nucleatum has previously been detected by researchers in colon cancer tissue, and the findings show that the bacterium may influence the development of colorectal cancer.

“Human Microbiome Fusobacterium Nucleatum in Esophageal Cancer Tissue Is Associated with Prognosis.” Authors: Kensuke Yamamura, Yoshifumi Baba, Shigeki Nakagawa, Kosuke Mima, Keisuke Miyake, Kenichi Nakamura, Hiroshi Sawayama, KoichiKinoshita, Takatsugu Ishimoto, Masaaki Iwatsuki, Yasuo Sakamoto, Yoichi Yamashita, Naoya Yoshida, Masayuki Watanabe and Hideo Baba. Kumamoto University, Japan. Published 15 November 2016 by Clinical Cancer Research.

“Chemokine function in periodontal disease and oral cavity cancer.” Authors: Sahingur SE and Yeudall WA (2015) Front. Immunol. 6:214. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2015.00214 1 Department of Periodontics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA. Published: 5 May 2015

“Fusobacterium nucleatum pericarditis.” Authors: Truant A.L., Menge, S., Milliorn, K., Lairscey, R., Kelly, M.T. Journal of Clinical Microbiology. Published: February 1983. pp. 349-351.

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Choice dental - Chewing Gum removes oral bacteria

Chewing gum removes oral bacteria as much as brushing teeth

A  study regarding the effects of chewing gum on oral bacteria was conducted by a team of Dutch researchers at the University of Groningen, Netherlands in early 2015. It’s not one to forget. Here’s a recap:

Evidence from their findings showed that oral bacteria got trapped inside chewing gum, thus removing the bacteria from the oral cavity.

Typically, tooth-brushing, flossing and mouth-washing are considered to be the main ways to remove bacteria from your teeth, tongue and gums. But the Dutch researchers set out to test the hypothesis that chewing gum could also contribute to oral health maintenance.

Choice dental Chewing gum removes oral bacteria as much as brushing teethThe research team had volunteers chew gum for up to 10 minutes. Then, the chewed gum was tested for bacteria and colony forming units.

The results were astounding.

Via scanning electron microscopy, the researchers could visually identify bacteria trapped in the gum (see pic). In each piece of gum, around 100 million bacteria were detected. In comparison, tooth-brushing and flossing removed a similar amount of bacteria.

Chewing one piece of gum also reduced about 10% of bacteria in saliva.

The Dutch research team concluded that chewing gum regularly helps to reduce your harmful oral bacteria load significantly. Their findings may promote the development of chewing gum that selectively targets oral disease-related bacteria for better oral health in the future. .

For the time being though, current brands of chewing gum are no substitute for regular tooth-brushing and flossing to maintain your oral health. However, if you are not in a position to brush or floss (e.g. at work), then drinking water and chewing some gum may help reduce your oral bacteria load during the day.


Research paper: “Quantification and Qualification of Bacteria Trapped in Chewed Gum”, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117191  

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