Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — It seems that flossing your teeth is not only important to keeping your dentist happy, but may also protect you from cognitive decline.
And a new analysis led by researchers at New York University’s Rory Myers School of Nursing reports that good oral health habits such as brushing and flossing may prevent cognitive impairment and dementia.
“Given the huge number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia each year, and the opportunity to improve oral health throughout the lifespan, it’s important to gain access to a wide range of health benefits,” Bai Wu, professor of global health at New York University’s Rory Myers School of Nursing and senior author of the study, said in a statement. A deeper understanding of the relationship between poor oral health and cognitive decline
The researchers analyzed 14 studies of tooth loss and cognitive impairment conducted over a long period of time, which included a total of 34,074 adults and 4,689 cases of people with impaired cognitive function.
The results showed that adults with more tooth loss were 1.48 times more likely to develop cognitive impairment and 1.28 times more likely to develop dementia, even when controlling for other factors.
And with each additional tooth missing, the risk of cognitive impairment increases, according to the analysis published in the Journal of Long-Term Care Medicine and Post-Acute Symptoms.
The new research also revealed that adults who had experienced tooth loss were more likely to have cognitive decline if they did not have dentures.
“We need to think about raising awareness of the importance of oral health, and we also need to think about preventive treatment and dentures,” Wu told CNN.
Dentures are important because they allow patients to maintain a healthy diet, as well as provide “the confidence to smile naturally,” according to Dr. James Wilson, president of the American Academy of Periodontology, who was not involved in the study.
The ability to eat a normal diet is critical to a person’s physical health, Wilson explained by email. “The positive self-image that dentures provide to a patient improves their mental health as well.”
Healthy mouth, healthier brain
The analysis offered several explanations for those links between poor oral health and poor brain health, including the problem of missing teeth, which can affect chewing, limiting healthy food choices and can lead to a loss of nutrients essential for brain health.
The analysis also highlighted evidence that stomatitis is associated with encephalitis and cognitive impairment.
“Untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss and may also increase the risk of other health complications,” Wilson added.
Inflammation from gum disease has been linked to other conditions, including cardiovascular disease, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Wilson told CNN that previous studies have also found links between peritoneal porphyrins, bacteria linked to gum disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The importance of the role of the social economy
The NYU-led analysis also noted that tooth loss could reflect “lifelong social and economic disadvantages, such as limited access and quality of medical and dental care, low number of years of education, and poor nutrition.”
“Income and education are highly correlated with oral health, probably much more so than other chronic conditions, especially because of the lack of dental insurance for many people,” Wu said.
She explained that the analysis should serve as a reminder, both for governments and ordinary people, of the importance of maintaining good oral health from an early age into adulthood.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics also say that preventive care and regular dental exams are important to protect teeth from decay and protect against gum disease.
“Gum disease can be prevented with regular brushing and flossing and routine visits to a dental hygienist and patients should also expect to receive a comprehensive periodontal evaluation on an annual basis,” added Wilson.