Want To Stay Mentally Sharp? Be Dental Smart

Oral health experts have long advised Americans to brush twice a day, floss daily, and see their dentists twice a year. These measures are known to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. However, a recent study shows that neglecting your oral health may contribute to cognitive decline. In other words, the less often you brush, the more likely you are to blank on answers to simple math questions and memory recall games. If you want to remember your grandkids' names and balance the checkbook in your twilight years, you may want to brush your teeth more often. This article will discuss the connection between dental care and your mental health. 

Link between mental and dental

In an article published in December 2013 in the Journal of the American Dental Association, researcher Gary Slade and his colleagues reported the apparent link between poor oral health and cognitive decline. The study, based on 6000 men and women aged 45-64, involved the administration of three cognitive tests: the Delayed Word Recall (DWR), Digit Symbol Substitution (DSS), and Word Fluency. Tooth and gum examinations were performed on each participant and correlated with scores on the cognitive tests. With regards to oral health results

  • 13% of the study's participants had no natural teeth

  • among participants with teeth, 20% had less than 20 teeth (a healthy mouth has 32)

  • 12% had bleeding gums and deep pockets of separation between teeth and gums

The results? First of all, those who had no teeth performed poorest on all cognitive measures. Those with missing teeth or dental problems scored lower on cognitive tests than those who had healthy mouths. Specifically, low DSS and WF scores seemed linked to infrequent toothbrushing, and low WF scores also correlated with high levels of plaque.

Which came first?

Researchers admit they are not sure whether poor oral health caused mental decline in the study's participants, or if mental decline affected their ability to take proper care of their teeth.

Here are some possibilities:

  1. If an individual's poor oral health is caused by poor diet, the body probably is not receiving the proper nutrition for optimal brain performance.

  2. An individual's poor food choices may not be purposeful, but rather may be driven by what he/she can tolerate with missing teeth or sensitive gums. For example, raw vegetables and fruit that contain vital nutrients may be too painful to chew, so the body never receives their nourishment.

  3. The inflammation associated with gum disease may cause systemic problems, affecting circulation that carries nutrition to the brain.

  4. Individuals with cognitive impairments, such as dementia or Alzheimers disease, may be unable to choose the best diet to maintain oral health.

What you can do

Although there are clearly some outstanding questions about this study, the correlations are compelling. While you have no control over whether or not you develop Alzheimers, you can develop and maintain good oral health practices that may prevent you from having declining memory function in general. The American Dental Association's guidelines for proper oral care in people aged 40-60 bear reviewing:

  1. Brush your teeth twice a day. Use a soft toothbrush, and be careful to get every corner of your mouth.

  2. Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months. This will help prevent your brush from getting worn down or harboring any bacteria. If you're ever sick, replace your toothbrush once you recover, even if you'd been using it for less than 3 months. 

  3. Floss once a day. Give particular attention to teeth that are close together or crooked. Don't forget to floss behind the molars in the back of your mouth.

  4. See your dentist twice a year. This not only affords you a professional cleaning, but also allows your dentist to examine for signs of early gum disease. If you are between visits but notice that your gums bleed when you brush, make an appointment.

If you do have some missing teeth, you don't have to give up a future of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. Ask your dentist about dental implants or dentures, which will replace missing teeth and prevent infection at the sites of missing teeth.

Prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you have been neglecting your oral health, make changes today.  To the best of your ability, stay mentally sharp by being dental smart. For more information, contact a local dental clinic like Schererville Family Dentistry, PC.