The Relationship Between Dental Health and Brain Function

The Relationship Between Dental Health and Brain Function

Maintaining good dental hygiene has always been emphasized from a young age to prevent tooth loss in old age. However, recent research suggests that it is not only our gums that are at risk if we neglect dental care. In fact, our brain could also suffer as a result. A study conducted by researchers in Japan has revealed a correlation between tooth loss, gum disease, and shrinkage in a specific region of the brain associated with memory and Alzheimer’s disease, known as the hippocampus. Surprisingly, the study suggests that in some cases, it may be better to lose diseased teeth in order to preserve both gum and brain health. This finding emphasizes the importance of prioritizing dental health, rather than solely focusing on retaining teeth, according to geriatric dentist Satoshi Yamaguchi of Tohoku University.

Implications for Dentists

This study adds to the growing body of research on oral health and its connection to cognitive function. While the study, which involved 172 participants over a period of four years, does not establish causation, it does demonstrate an association between tooth loss, gum disease, and brain shrinkage in the hippocampus. These findings have significant implications for dentists, as they may influence critical decisions regarding oral health care.

The study included participants aged 55 years and older who underwent memory tests at the beginning of the study. Researchers collected data on each participant’s general health, medical history, and dental health using questionnaires and medical tests. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to measure the volume of the hippocampus at baseline and four years later. Dentists counted the number of teeth in each participant and assessed the gum tissue around each tooth to determine the extent of gum disease.

The researchers discovered a relationship between the number of teeth and the severity of gum disease with changes in the left hippocampus of the brain. People with mild gum disease and fewer teeth experienced faster shrinkage of the left hippocampus compared to those with more teeth. Interestingly, the loss of one tooth in individuals with mild gum disease accelerated brain shrinkage, equivalent to an additional year of brain aging. On the other hand, individuals with severe gum disease and more teeth exhibited a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the same region. The loss of one tooth in individuals with severe gum disease corresponded to 1.3 years of brain aging. These findings remained consistent even after accounting for the participants’ ages.

The implications of this study suggest that preserving brain health is closely tied to maintaining good oral hygiene. Dentist Satoshi Yamaguchi emphasizes the significance of controlling gum disease progression through regular dental visits to prevent brain atrophy. However, it is important to note that this study involved a small sample size from one region in Japan. Therefore, further research on larger and more diverse populations is necessary to generalize these results.

This study serves as a reminder of the importance of dental care beyond mere tooth preservation. Our dental health has a direct impact on the health of the brain region responsible for thinking and memory. Taking better care of our teeth can potentially benefit our brain function and overall cognitive well-being.


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