Mental health practitioners rarely give straightforward solutions to mind and brain problems. However, a group of Yale researchers has published a study on gum disease and cognitive decline that accomplishes this goal. Poor dental hygiene, including periodontitis and tooth loss, has been linked to cognitive decline, dementia, and stroke in studies; however, this research has only been observational up to this point.
It’s also known that enhancing dental health can help prevent the brain atrophy caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Still, this impact has only been demonstrated to occur after symptoms have started and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis has been made with certainty.
A recent study by Rivier et al. found that poor oral health causes brain changes associated with the onset of dementia and stroke years before cognitive decline is observable. The study found that individuals with poor oral health had higher WMH (white matter hyper-intensities) volume and worse white matter architecture profiles, even after adjusting for confounding factors.
The fatty myelin layer that protects the nerve fibers gives white matter its characteristic color. Myelin protects the fibers, which also helps the fibers move signals more quickly along neural circuits. Small lesions in the white matter, known as white matter hyper-intensities, result from myelin and nerve fiber injury. The impulses the brain transmits slow down because of this kind of injury, which is vsible on MRIs and result in cognitive impairment.
If teeth are not brushed for several days, each tooth develops a thin biofilm called dental plaque that teems with acid-producing bacteria. With plaque buildup comes inflammation of the gums as our immune system tries to fight off the infection. Gingivitis, the mildest form of periodontal disease, is still reversible; brushing and removing the plaque buildup will allow the gums to heal. But more severe gum disease, or periodontitis, can follow if the gingivitis is not taken into concern. The whole body is fighting against these bacteria. The immune system is provoked, alert, and working hard against these bacteria. Chronic inflammation develops into a vicious cycle: as the gums swell, the space between the teeth and gums widens, enabling more bacteria to enter. This can cause inflammation of the bone behind the gums as well. If the condition is left untreated, the body will eventually reject the tooth, resulting in loosening and tooth loss.
This ongoing inflammation in the mouth may affect the rest of the body. Increase in pro-inflammatory chemicals in the blood have been associated with gum disease. This ongoing inflammation may affect the rest of the body, starting in the mouth. Increased pro-inflammatory chemicals in the blood have been associated with gum disease. Chronic bodily inflammation can result in chronic neuroinflammation in the brain, which causes neurodegeneration and is a major factor in Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, oral health issues are a widespread public health issue. Additionally, once gum disease arrive, it cannot be reversed with better brushing and flossing techniques. Consultation with a dentist is necessary.
The new study is particularly significant because it is the first to demonstrate that allocating funds to enhancing oral health will have positive effects beyond enhancing people’s smiles. Giving aid may have long-term advantages for cognitive health that more than offset the cost of dental care. Poor dental health is linked to other well-established dementia risk factors, including smoking and a lower understanding of the consequences. Losing teeth might have unintended consequences that influence cognition, nutrition, and general health.
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