Taking care of your teeth and gums could offer benefits beyond just a good check-up at the dentist or a brilliant smile. Recent research has shown that adults prone to poor oral health may be likelier to exhibit signs of declining brain health than those with healthy teeth and gums. While this research is still emerging, it does shed light on the intricate connections between our oral and brain health. Keep reading to learn more about key ways in which oral and brain health are related.
How is Oral Health Tied to Brain Health?
- Inflammation and Infection: Poor oral health can lead to inflammation and infection in the mouth, including conditions like gum disease (periodontitis) and tooth decay (cavities). These oral infections can release inflammatory molecules into the bloodstream, which may contribute to systemic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health issues, including neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
- Increased Stroke Risk: The American Stroke Association recently presented research that oral ailments such as gum disease and missing teeth, as well as inadequate brushing habits and a lack of plaque removal, can increase the risk of stroke. The researchers found that adults with overall poor oral health had increased damage to the “fine architecture of the brain,” which could impair memory, balance, and mobility.
- Shared Risk Factors: Poor oral health and certain brain health issues share common risk factors, such as smoking, a high-sugar diet, and inadequate oral hygiene. In fact, these environmental factors are likely stronger risk factors for poor oral health than genetic issues. These risk factors can increase the likelihood of both oral and neurological problems.
- Bacterial Spread: The mouth contains a diverse community of bacteria – both good and bad – some of which can be harmful if they enter the bloodstream. Chronic oral infections can allow bacteria to travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, including the brain. Once in the brain, certain types of bacteria release enzymes that can destroy nerve cells, which in turn can lead to memory loss and even Alzheimer’s.
The Oral-Systemic Health Connection
The concept of the “oral-systemic health connection” highlights the idea that the health of one part of our body, such as the mouth, can affect the health of other systems, including the brain. It’s also important to note that while these connections are being researched, they don’t always establish direct causation in all cases. Maintaining good oral hygiene, which includes regular brushing and flossing, routine dental check-ups, and a balanced diet, is essential not only for oral health but also for overall well-being, including brain health.
If you have any concerns about the relationship between your oral health and brain health, it’s important to talk with both a dentist and a healthcare professional to address your specific concerns and get personalized recommendations.