Brain Health & Tooth Brushing: Could There Be A Link?

November 17, 2009 at 2:34 pm 2 comments

image For quite a while now, poor oral health has been linked to increased risk of  heart disease and strokes.  But could gum disease also contribute to cognitive problems, even increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s?  New research out of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests just that.

In the study, 2,350 adults over the age of 60 were assessed for both the levels of gum-disease and  tests of their cognitive skills.  The results?  Those with the highest levels of the bacteria that cause gum disease were two to three times as likely to struggle with simple memory and cognitive tasks, like remembering  word sequences or doing mental arithmetic.

The researchers suggested that gum disease might affect brain function in a number of ways. Periodontal disease can allow bacteria to enter the blood stream, activating the immune system and increasing inflammation throughout the body – which has already been linked to Alzheimer’s and other cognitive problems.  And that same bacteria is believed to cause arterial damage, known as a risk factor for mental declines and dementia.  Poor oral hygiene is also known to contribute to narrowing of the arteries and other heart and circulatory problems, which are again linked to cognitive problems.

But the study results are preliminary, and only suggest that more research is needed, and it’s too early to promote dentists to a leadership role in brain fitness -possible, for instance, that as people’s memories begin to fail, they tend to brush their teeth less often, accounting for the link between gum disease and mental function.

Still, it’s worth adding “brain fitness!” to your list of reasons for regular dental checkups, daily brushing and flossing.  It won’t hurt, and it might just help.

And while we’re at it, maybe we could start using our daily tooth time for a few extra brain exercises, like doing mental addition and subtraction, or just switching the hand we hold the brush in, to further stimulate those neurons!

Entry filed under: memory, Supporting Science & Medicine. Tags: , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Planning workout schedule  |  November 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Perhaps people who have cognitatvie problems are just more likely to forget to brush their teath rather than it being the other way around and saying that you have bad gums and this effects your mind or makes you avoid going to the gym.

    Reply
    • 2. Tori Deaux  |  November 24, 2009 at 2:39 pm

      Yes, it’s quite possible that existing cognitive problems could make someone brush their teeth less often, causing dental issues. The researchers even mention that possibility, which is one reason it’s only a tentative connection 🙂

      (The link between physical exercise and brain-health is much better established, though, and it’s well-accepted that physical activity directly impacts brain health, stimulates new neural growth, and helps protect existing braincells in a variety of ways)

      Reply

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
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