Disturbing New Finding Links Cognitive Decline to Dental Hygiene : ScienceAlert

From a young age, we are told that we should brush our teeth to avoid losing them as we age. Now it seems it's not just our gum health that's at risk. Our brains can be affected by poor dental hygiene.

Researchers in Japan have found a link between tooth loss, gum disease and shrinkage of the hippocampus, a region of the brain associated with memory and Alzheimer's disease.

Shockingly, the results suggest that in some cases, it may be better to remove the diseased tooth to protect not only gum health, but also brain health.

These results highlight the importance of maintaining dental health rather than just preserving teeth,” said Satoshi Yamaguchi, a geriatric dentist at Tohoku University.

This adds to existing oral health research as awareness of the link between oral health and cognitive function grows.

The results of the four-year study of 172 people do not establish cause and effect; rather, they demonstrate an association between the factors. Still, the impact of studies like this could influence how dentists make critical decisions about our oral health.

All participants aged 55 or older took a memory test at the beginning of the study, and researchers collected general health and medical history information about each participant through questionnaires and medical tests.

Participants were included in the study only if they had no memory problems at the outset. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allowed Yamaguchi and his team to determine the volume of the hippocampus at baseline and four years later.

Dentists counted the number of teeth in each participant and checked periodontal probing depth (PD), a measurement of the gum tissue surrounding each tooth that can indicate gum disease.

Tooth loss and gum disease (inflammation of the tissue around the teeth that can lead to gum recession and loose teeth) are very common, so it's important to evaluate potential links to dementia,” Yamaguchi explained.

A healthy PD range is between one and three millimeters; periodontal disease at multiple points with a thickness of three or four millimeters is considered mild gum disease; severe gum disease can lead to five or six tooth gaps in multiple locations. mm. Analyzes were based on each participant's mean PD at baseline and four years later.

Researchers found that the number of teeth and the extent of gum disease were associated with changes in the hippocampus on the left side of the brain. Early in the progression of Alzheimer's disease, the volume of the hippocampus decreases.

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The left hippocampus shrank more quickly in people with mild gum disease and fewer teeth. People with mild gum disease were missing one tooth and their brains were shrinking at a rate almost equivalent to a year's brain aging.

On the other hand, for people with severe gum disease, more Teeth are associated with faster contractions in the same area of ​​the brain. For people with severe gum disease, the increase in left hippocampal atrophy caused by one extra tooth was equivalent to 1.3 years of brain aging.

The researchers found these differences after taking into account the age of the participants.

“The findings suggest that tooth retention in people with severe gum disease is associated with brain shrinkage,” Yamaguchi said. “It is vital to control the progression of gum disease through regular dental visits.”

This study involved a small number of people, all from one region of Japan, so it is important that larger, more diverse populations should be studied before these results can be generalized.

Still, it's a reminder to all of us that our pearly whites are important not only for a lifetime of chewing, but also for keeping our minds clear.

“Our research found [tooth loss and gum disease] May play a role in the health of areas of the brain that control thinking and memory, giving people another reason to take better care of their teeth,” Yamaguchi said.

The study was published in Neurology.

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