Poor oral health linked to poor brain health, study finds

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In a study from Yale University, scientists found taking care of your teeth and gums may offer benefits beyond oral health such as improving brain health.

Previous studies have shown that gum disease, missing teeth, and other signs of poor oral health, as well as poor brushing habits and lack of plaque removal, increase stroke risk.

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the number 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

Previous research has also found that gum disease and other oral health concerns are linked to heart disease risk factors and other conditions like high blood pressure.

Just as healthy lifestyle choices impact the risk of heart disease and stroke, they also affect brain health, which includes one’s ability to remember things, think clearly, and function in life.

In the study, the team analyzed the potential link between oral health and brain health among about 40,000 adults (46% men, average age 57 years) without a history of stroke enrolled in the U.K. Biobank.

Participants were screened for 105 genetic variants known to predispose persons to have cavities, dentures, and missing teeth later in life.

Signs of poor brain health were screened via MRI images of the participants’ brains: white matter hyperintensities, defined as accumulated damage in the brain’s white matter, which may impair memory, balance, and mobility; and microstructural damage, which is the degree to which the fine architecture of the brain has changed in comparison to images for a normal brain scan of a healthy adult of similar age.

The team found people who were genetically prone to cavities, missing teeth, or needing dentures had a higher burden of silent cerebrovascular disease, as represented by a 24% increase in the number of white matter hyperintensities visible on the MRI images.

Those with overall genetically poor oral health had increased damage to the fine architecture of the brain, as represented by a 43% change in microstructural damage scores visible on the MRI scans.

Microstructural damage scores are whole-brain summaries of the damage sustained by the fine architecture of each brain region.

The team says poor oral health may cause declines in brain health, so people need to be extra careful with their oral hygiene because it has implications far beyond the mouth.

More evidence needs to be gathered—ideally through clinical trials—to confirm improving oral health in the population will lead to brain health benefits.

If you care about tooth health, please read studies about a gel that could treat gum disease by fighting inflammation, and how to prevent and reverse gum disease.

For more information about tooth health, please see recent studies about diabetes and gum disease, and results showing yogurt intake could help reduce tooth loss risk.

The study was conducted by Cyprien Rivier et al and presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2023.

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