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Ever since we’ve found that the mouth appears to be the gateway to both health and disease in the body, I’ve been taking extra-good care with my oral hygiene. And it’s a good thing.
There’s also a link between poor oral health and the health of the brain. One study found people who were genetically predisposed to cavities, missing teeth or needing dentures had 24 percent more white matter hyperintensities — or lesions — on their brains which raises the risk for impaired memory, balance and mobility, and silent cerebrovascular disease.
Now, investigators have discovered a connection between dental health and a second marker of poor brain health….
Gum health and the hippocampus
A team of Japanese researchers sought to investigate whether there was a link between poor oral health and dementia.
“Tooth loss and gum disease, which is inflammation of the tissue around the teeth that can cause shrinkage of the gums and loosening of the teeth, are very common, so evaluating a potential link with dementia is incredibly important,” says study author Dr. Satoshi Yamaguchi of Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan.
Their study involved 172 people with an average age of 67 who had no memory problems at the start of the study. They gave participants dental exams and memory tests at the beginning of the study. They also underwent brain scans that measured hippocampus volume since shrinking in this part of the brain has been linked to cognitive decline. The brain scans were repeated four years later.
In the dental exam, researchers counted the number of teeth and identified the level of gum disease among participants.
Sure enough, the researchers found a link between the number of teeth and level of gum disease and changes in the left hippocampus of the brain — but the results were a little unexpected…
For participants with mild gum disease, having fewer teeth was associated with a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the left hippocampus. However, for people with severe gum disease, having more teeth was found to be connected to a faster rate of shrinkage in the same area of the brain.
Once they adjusted for age, the researchers calculated that the increase in the rate of brain shrinkage due to one less tooth in people with mild gum disease was equal to nearly one year of brain aging. For people with severe gum disease, the increase in brain shrinkage due to one more tooth was equivalent to 1.3 years of brain aging.
Yamaguchi notes the results highlight the importance of not only retaining teeth but preserving their health.
“The findings suggest that retaining teeth with severe gum disease is associated with brain atrophy,” he says. “Controlling the progression of gum disease through regular dental visits is crucial, and teeth with severe gum disease may need to be extracted and replaced with appropriate prosthetic devices.”
Prevention is key for healthy gums and brain
Finding the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still elusive. But studies like this and others that find an association with certain conditions or practices, provide starting points for prevention.
The more we learn about what causes brain shrinkage, the more we can adopt habits, like napping, eating blueberries, losing weight, and good oral/dental care, to keep a healthy plump brain as long as possible.
My colleague Joyce Hollman put together tips for healthy gums, and I’m sharing here so you can get started today caring for your gums and your brain…
- Brush the right way. Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to your teeth, so your teeth and gums get cleaned.
- Toothbrush care: Store your brush upright, in open air. If you alternate between two brushes (a good idea), don’t let them touch and contaminate each other. Get new brushes every three months.
- Use a gum stimulator. A rubber-tipped stimulator cleans between teeth and massages the gums.
- Floss regularly. Leaving food between your teeth is a sure way to invite bacteria into your gums.
- Get your vitamins. Vitamin C can help curb bleeding gums, while vitamin D has been shown to reduce signs of early gum disease by as much as 20 percent. More importantly, vitamin D deficiency is associated with accelerated brain aging — and smaller brain volume. So start taking a high-quality D supplement today for double the protection!
- Drink tea. Both black and green tea contain antioxidants that prevent plaque buildup.
- Use mouthwash. Just make sure you’re using the healthy kind. Alternatively, swish and rinse with peroxide and water, half of each. Just don’t swallow it. Three times a week will help inhibit bacteria.
- Don’t smoke and consume alcohol rarely. Both habits rob your body of vitamins and minerals that keep your mouth healthy
- Scrape your tongue. Bacteria and toxins love the warm, moist environment of your tongue. Scrape with a toothbrush, popsicle stick, tongue depressor or small spoon.
- Eat a raw vegetable a day. Hard, crunchy foods stimulate teeth and gums to prevent disease.
Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!
Taking good care of your teeth may be good for your brain — ScienceDaily