You may want to think twice about cancelling your dentist appointments, or “forgetting” to brush your teeth – a new study has found that doing so may impact much more than just your dental health—it may impact your memory and the welfare of your brain!
What Your Dentist Has To Do With Your Memory
In the early 1980’s researchers at the University of Southern California and other academic institutions in California, began a long term study in order to assess whether there was a correlation between dental health and the risk of dementia. For the study, several thousand adult participants who did not have dementia were asked questions about their dental health, and the researchers then used medical records and questionnaires at follow-up visits in order to assess for memory loss and other signs of dementia. The study, which concluded in 2010, and was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found multiple correlations between dental health and dementia risk.
Brushing three times daily has long been touted as one of the best ways to maintain dental health and to avoid a painful and costly dental treatment. As if that weren’t incentive enough, the California study found that brushing three times a day was correlated with a reduced likelihood for developing dementia and omitting to brush daily resulted in a 65% greater risk of dementia in women. The study also found that men who had reduced chewing function and few of their own teeth left had a higher risk for dementia then men who had more of their own teeth left.
Lowering Your Risk for Dementia
According to the study, if you want to reduce your risk for dementia, brushing regularly is simply not enough–the women who looked after both their teeth and gums, (which means not only brushing, but also flossing), had a lower risk for dementia. In addition, the men who had not seen their dentist in over a year had an 89% higher risk of dementia than the men who had visited their dentist at least twice yearly.
Although the findings of this study suggest that brushing regularly and regular visits to your dentist will reduce your risk for dementia, researchers warn that it is possible that the associations found were influenced by other confounding factors such as a tendency for people with healthier overall lifestyle habits to take better care of their teeth. Despite this warning, many other researchers speculate that the bacteria and inflammation that compromise tooth enamel and cause dental disease may have the ability to migrate to the brain and compromise memory. In fact, some studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have a higher amount of gum-disease related bacteria in their brains then people with healthy brain function.
Although more research clearly needs to be done before a definitive connection between oral health and dementia can be made, Paganini-Hill, who led the study at the University of California asserts “ it’s nice if this relationship holds true as there’s something people can do (to reduce their chances of developing dementia). First, practice good oral health habits to prevent tooth loss and oral diseases. And second, if you do lose your teeth, wear dentures.”