Brushing, Flossing Could Help Shield Your Brain From Dementia

THURSDAY, July 6, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Add the risk of memory problems later in life to the list of consequences associated with poor oral health.

Not taking care of your mouth and teeth has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and premature birth. Now, a new study finds that people with gum disease or tooth loss experience shrinkage in the hippocampus, a region of the brain critical for memory.

“Preserving healthier teeth without periodontal disease may help protect brain health,” said study author Dr. Satoshi Yamaguchi, associate professor at Tohoku University Graduate School of Dentistry in Sendai, Japan.

The new study wasn't designed to say how or even whether the number of healthy teeth or gum disease contributes to dementia or memory problems, but previous research suggests simmering inflammation may be the smoking gun.

“It has also been suggested that the pathogens of periodontal disease themselves may invade the brain and damage neural tissue,” Yamaguchi said. “Having fewer teeth reduces the stimulation of chewing, which can also lead to brain atrophy.”

The new study included 172 people (average age: 67) who had no memory problems to begin with. At the start of the study, participants had dental exams and took memory tests. They also performed brain scans to measure hippocampal volume at the beginning and four years later. The researchers also counted the number of teeth and checked for gum disease.

The left hippocampus shrank faster in people with mild gum disease but fewer healthy teeth, and in people with severe gum disease but more healthy teeth.

The study found that for people with mild gum disease, the increased rate of brain shrinkage associated with one missing tooth was equivalent to nearly a year of aging the brain.

For people with severe gum disease, the increase in brain shrinkage associated with one extra tooth was equivalent to 1.3 years of brain aging.

“It's important to keep more teeth, but keeping more teeth with severe periodontal disease can be harmful to the brain,” Yamaguchi said.

“Regular dental visits are important to control the progression of periodontal disease, and teeth with severe periodontal disease may need to be removed and replaced with well-fitting dentures,” he said.

The study was published online on July 5 in Neurology.

Dr. Saul Presner, a dentist in private practice in New York City who reviewed the survey results, said the message is clear: Take care of your oral health.

“In general, good oral hygiene, daily flossing, water flossing, and regular dental exams twice a year can help prevent the onset and progression of periodontal disease,” Plesner says.

Percy Griffin, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer's Society, also reviewed the findings.

“This study adds to existing evidence between oral health and cognition,” Griffin said. “To date, we have seen some data linking periodontal disease to cognitive decline, but this study The study looked specifically at the number of teeth.”

Griffin said more studies on larger, more diverse populations are still needed to draw firm conclusions.

“We don't know yet whether things like brushing your teeth reduce the risk of cognitive decline as you age,” he said. “We can say that good oral hygiene is very important for overall health and healthy aging.”

Griffin noted that there are other modifiable lifestyle risk factors, including exercise and diet, that can reduce the risk of thinking and memory problems as you age.

More information

Learn more about how to protect your brain health as you age at the Alzheimer's Association.

Sources: Satoshi Yamaguchi, PhD, DDS, associate professor, Tohoku University Graduate School of Dentistry, Sendai, Japan; Saul Pressner, DMD, dentist, New York City; Percy Griffin, PhD, director of scientific engagement, Alzheimer's Association of Chicago; NeurologyJuly 5, 2023

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