For people with dementia, forgetting their names, their phone numbers or what they had for breakfast is not a rare thing.
Though we’ve always associated memory problems with old age or bad genes, a new study shows that a person’s approach to oral hygiene has repercussions on his mental health.
Researchers who followed 5,468 elderly people from 1992 to 2010 discovered that those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65% more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily.
“Not only does the state of your mind predict what kind of oral health habits you practice, it may be that your oral health habits influence whether or not you get dementia,” said Annlia Paganini-Hill, head researcher at the University of California.
Paganini-Hill also said that studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease (most common form of dementia) have more gum disease-related bacteria in their brains than a person without Alzheimer’s.
- Of 78 women (who brushed their teeth less than once a day in 1992) 21 had dementia by 2010.
- Those who brushed their teeth at least once a day, closer to one in every 4.5 women developed dementia. This means a 65% greater possibility to develop dementia than those who brushed daily.
- Among the men, about one in six irregular brushers developed the disease — making them 22% more likely to have dementia than those who did brush daily.
- There was a significant difference between men who had all or most of their natural teeth, or who wore dentures, and those who didn’t — the latter group were almost twice as likely to develop dementia.
The latest findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society cannot prove that poor dental health can cause dementia. But it’s important to note that neglecting one’s teeth might be an early sign of vulnerability to memory degeneration.
"Still, it is really the first to look at the effect of actions like brushing and flossing your teeth,” said Dr. Amber Watts, who studies the causes of dementia at the University of Kansas and was not involved in the research.
"It’s nice if this relationship holds true as there’s something people can do (to reduce their chances of developing dementia). First, practice good oral health habits to prevent tooth loss and oral diseases. And second, if you do lose your teeth, wear dentures.”
Taking good care of our oral health by regular twice-daily brushing and daily flossing is something so simple. Who would not want a healthy smile and a sharper memory?