Ask the Dentist: Could oral health link be linked to brain function?

Dentist Lucy Stock at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says visiting the dentist could help your brain to tick over better in later life

There is a higher rate of oral diseases among older adults and people with cognitive brain diseases have more oral problems than average
Lucy Stock

COULD going to the dentist actually improve your clarity of thought in the later stages of your life? Well, research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has speculated that how good your oral health is may be linked to how well your brain functions.

Due to the massive advancements in healthcare over the past century more people are now living into old age. The population aged 65 and over has grown by 47 per cent since mid-1974. With this ageing population comes an increase of people living with conditions such as dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Alzheimer's disease, named after the doctor who first described it, Alois Alzheimer, affects more than 520,000 people in the UK. During the course of the disease, proteins build up in the brain to form structures called ‘plaques'. This leads to the loss of connections between nerve cells, and eventually to the death of nerve cells and loss of brain tissue.

Scientists think that a common inflammatory pathway may hold the key to a link, if indeed such a link exists between the mouth and brain. Evidence shows that there is a higher rate of oral diseases among older adults and people with cognitive brain diseases have more oral problems than average.

Researchers led by Dr Bei Wu, of Duke University in the United States, found that their results suggest that oral health measures, such as the number of missing teeth, the number of teeth with cavities and the presence of gum disease may reflect the risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

Dr Wu said: “Clinical evidence suggests that the frequency of oral health problems increases significantly in cognitively impaired older people, particularly those with dementia. In addition, many of the factors associated with poor oral health, such as poor nutrition and systemic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are also associated with poor cognitive function.”

The team behind the study stressed the need for further investigations before any firm conclusions can be drawn. In the meantime if you have concerns about the health of your gums or teeth its best to get a dentist to determine the extent of the problem and suggest any appropriate treatment. Visiting the hygienist and having regular professional cleans improves gum health and increases the lifespan of your teeth.

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