Here’s a new scientific finding to motivate your kids to brush their teeth and floss. Researchers have found that people who have poor dental hygiene are more likely to have impaired memory and mental functions. Now you can tell your babies that the reason grandpa can’t remember where he put his glasses is because he forgot to brush his teeth. When they question how that can be, you can explain it may be because nasty bacteria in his mouth are making his brain work worse.
Richard Crout researches gum disease at the University of West Virginia School of Dentistry. He says in recent years, oral health researchers have found that tooth and gum disease have links to many other health problems – from heart disease to premature birth and pregnancy complications. Now they think there might be links to memory loss.
Crout says many dentists see older patients with memory loss who come into their offices with teeth that are a mess. Often that’s because these patients have forgotten to do the basics of self care.
“Now we know that if somebody has dementia or they are demented or they have Alzheimer’s, that they are going [to] potentially forget to brush or floss their teeth,” he says. “That would not be new, but what surprised us was the linkage between mild to moderate memory loss and oral disease.”
Crout and his students examined data from the NHANES [National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey], a national survey of Americans, which asked them about their health. Subjects in the study also had dental exams. And the data showed that people who reported tooth and gum disease had lower scores on tests that measured memory and cognition.
One hypothesis that would link oral disease and memory loss relies on new evidence about how tissue inflammation affects the brain.
“Our hypothesis is that there are inflammatory byproducts that come from the infection that exists in our mouths, particularly with the more advanced form of gum disease,” Crout says. “And these byproducts can then travel to areas of the brain that have been noted to be an area of concern for those patients with memory loss.”
The cause-and-effect relationships haven’t been determined yet. It may take decades of long-term studies to find definitive answers. However, even now it appears that it may work both directions, with bad memory leading to bad oral health and bad oral health leading to bad memory.
It is plausible that some memory and mind impairments are instigated in part by nasty bacterial activity in the mouth. Researchers have previously found substantial evidence tying poor oral health to cardiovascular disease risk due to body-wide inflammation processes triggered by such nasty bacteria in the mouth. So it’s not a big leap to expect that inflammation-related neurological problems including memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease may also be adversely impacted by poor oral health.
It is also plausible that a high risk of some oral diseases, especially cavities and gum diseases, are due to poor memory resulting in forgetting to attend to dental hygiene. In other words, bad memory leads to bad teeth and gums.
Put both of these cause-and-effect relationships together and you can see how oral health and mental health can decline in tandem.
“This research has provided the first scientific evidence of psychological factors and other environmental factors that may be at play in Appalachia, including fear of the dentist,” said Richard Crout, D.M.D., Ph.D., an expert on gum disease and associate dean for research in the West Virginia University School of Dentistry. He is directing the West Virginia portion of the research.
Discoveries about the genetics of the main microorganism that causes cavities have also been groundbreaking.
“Although the streptococcus bacterium looks the same under the microscope, we discovered that it is more virulent because of its genetic makeup,” Crout explained.
The researchers suspect that other health problems prevalent in West Virginia such as cardiovascular disease and stroke may be related to the high rates of gum disease because
Inflammation from periodontitis, or severe gum disease, can travel throughout the body.
Previous research has shown that a person with periodontitis is twice as likely to have a heart attack and almost three times more likely to have a stroke, Crout said. Premature births go down when pregnant women with gum disease have their teeth cleaned at the dentist’s office. And last year, WVU researchers published research establishing a link between gum disease and mild to moderate memory loss.
“What surprised me most after seven years of study was discovering high rates of the more severe form of gum disease called periodontitis in rural Appalachia,” Crout said. “More than 80 percent of adults in the study showed signs of periodontitis.”
In addition to regular brushing, flossing and/or the use of a water-jet mouth cleaning device is important to clear plaque away from the gums. Many dentists today also recommend electric toothbrushes with built-in timing mechanisms that cycle for about 30 seconds per quadrant of the mouth to ensure that you’ll adequately brush.
As we previously discussed in our article Mouth Probiotics Speed Canker Sore Healing and Reduce Cavities, Arthritis Pain, Heart Disease , new mouth probiotics may also help favorably alter the bacterial flora in the mouth to significantly reduce the population of harmful bacteria. This can reduce the number of cavities and lessen body-wide inflammation diseases that may start with gum disease caused by unfriendly bacteria.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned on this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.