Good Oral Health Linked to Lower Risk of Dementia

Need some additional motivation to brush and floss regularly outside of good oral health? A new study has found a link between good dental health and a lowered risk of dementia.

A research team followed a group of 5,500 elderly people over 18 years, and they found that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65% more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed at least once daily.

“Not only does the state of your mind predict what kind of oral health habits you practice, it may be that your oral health habits influence whether or not you get dementia,” said Annlia Paganini-Hill, lead researcher at the University of California.

As we have discussed in previous posts, researchers from other studies have found that inflammation caused by gum disease and gum disease-causing bacteria has been greatly associated with heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. To add to this, other studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common and widely-known form of dementia, have more gum disease-related bacteria in their brains than a person without Alzheimer’s.

Paganini-Hill explained that they believe that gum disease-related bacteria might get into the brain, thereby causing inflammation and brain damage. That’s what prompted her and her team to look into whether good dental health practices could predict cognitive function in later life.

Her team followed this group of Californian retirement community residents from 1992 to 2010. All participants did not have dementia at the start of the study, and all answered questions about the dental health habits, the current condition of their teeth, and whether they wore dentures. When they followed-up with the participants 18 years later, they found that of the 78 women who said they brushed their teeth less than once a day in 1992, 21 had dementia by 2010–roughly 3 out of every 7 women. Of the women who brushed their teeth daily, one in 4.5 developed dementia, which translated to a 65% greater chance of developing dementia among women who brushed less than daily.

With the men, however, the effect was less significant, with one in six men who did not brush once daily developing the disease. The team said that statistically, the effect was so small, it could have been simply due to chance. Instead, the significant difference in men was found between those who wore their dentures and those who did not. Those who did not were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia.

This effect with dentures in women, however, was not seen. Paginini-Hill speculated that this is because women wear their dentures more often than men, but she has nothing concrete.

While this study cannot conclusively confirm that poor dental hygiene can cause dementia, it does suggest a definite relationship between the two. Dr. Amber Watts, a researcher at the University of Kansas who studies the causes of dementia, said that this study “is really the first to look at the effect of actions like brushing and flossing your teeth.” She further said that this study is an important step into learning how dental health behavior is linked to dementia.

“It’s nice if this relationship holds true as there’s something people can do (to reduce their chances of developing dementia),” said Paganini-Hill. “First, practice good oral health habits to prevent tooth loss and oral diseases. And second, if you do lose your teeth, wear dentures.”

So while the study can’t say that bad oral health causes dementia, there’s more than enough in the study to suggest that there is definitely something between good oral hygiene and a lowered risk of dementia. That alone should be enough of a motivational factor to keep brushing and flossing daily as well as see your dentist regularly.

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