Healthy teeth and gums, fresh breath and a pretty smile are the reasons we brush our teeth every day and we see our dentist twice a year. But are there more benefits to healthy teeth and gums beyond the fresh breath and pretty smile?
I previously spoke @DoctorBoladCardiology about the benefits of healthy teeth and gums on the heart. Now more evidence is merging about the benefit on the brain. A study published last year in the journal Neurology showed that people with gum disease in mid-age are more likely to develop dementia and cognitive impairment over 20 years follow up. Those with severe disease-causing teeth loss are two times more likely to suffer decline or loss in brain health.
The balance of good and bad bacteria in our mouth shifts as we age, causing an environment which leads to gum disease and other infections associated with higher risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia. Systemic inflammation ties all these together, and it is likely that the imbalance of the good and bad bacteria sends toxins into the blood stream, leading to immune response that creates systemic inflammation.
Prevention isn’t as simple as more brushing and flossing. Overuse of mouthwash can kill the good bacteria as well, so this is not recommended. Some of the harmful bacteria might be coming from the gut, not the mouth. It has been shown recently that people with high levels of the bacteria H. pylori in the gut, have increased risk of dementia. It is also possible that poor oral health might worsen other health conditions, rather than initiating them.
A lot of work and research with long-term follow up is needed in this area. We need to find out if there are specific interventions that prevent dementia from developing. This will take many years of research.