New research found that oral hygiene may be directly linked to brain health.
As children, we were constantly told to brush our teeth three times a day after eating our meals. Even on long days when we feel like running toward bed after a difficult day at work, we are constantly reminded to end the night by brushing our teeth. Now, all that nagging may pay off, as studies showed that taking care of your oral hygiene can also improve your brain health.
The findings, to be introduced at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Dallas, Texas in early February, says taking care of your teeth and maintaining a healthy oral condition can diminish the aging of cognitive abilities. On top of oral hygiene, tackling your dental complications early can also contribute to your brain health. Preceding research has revealed that oral complications, including poor oral hygiene, gum disease, or missing needed teeth can contribute to other health complications, including stroke risks, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
"Studying oral health is especially important because poor oral health happens frequently and is an easily modifiable risk factor — everyone can effectively improve their oral health with minimal time and financial investment," said Dr. Cyprien Rivier of Yale School of Medicine, the research author.
How was the research conducted?
The study involved 40,000 British adults, with an average age of 57. Participants also had no prior history of stroke between 2014 and 2021. Researchers utilized a specified type of study known as mendelian randomization, which entails utilizing genetics to preview health outcomes. All participants were evaluated for 105 genetic variants that could potentially exhibit vulnerability to cavities, tooth loss, and dentures, and how that related to brain health.
Brain health and cognitive functions were assessed through MRI imaging, displaying any damage in the brain’s white matter, which can hinder memory, balance, and more. This was then compared to other adults of comparable age to contrast brain health.
Through the screening, the team found that those who were genetically susceptible to poor oral hygiene, such as activities and dentures, had a heightened risk of silent cerebrovascular disease. In detail, those with genetically poor oral hygiene had a 24 percent rise of white matter damage on MRI.
The MRI scans revealed a 43 percent change in microstructural damage scores, indicating an increase in damage to the brain's construction in those with inadequate oral health as a whole. Rivier continued to state that microstructural damage scores are a summary of the damage done to each brain region's fine architecture across the entire brain.
"Poor oral health may cause declines in brain health, so we need to be extra careful with our oral hygiene because it has implications far beyond the mouth. However, this study is preliminary, and more evidence needs to be gathered — ideally through clinical trials — to confirm improving oral health in the population will lead to brain health benefits," continued Rivier.
What are some study limitations?
Although research outcomes indicate a link between brain health and oral health, further study is needed to examine the relationship between the two thoroughly. Mendelian randomization study does reveal a causal connection but does not guarantee an absolute conclusion. To continue, the study involved approximately 94 percent of individuals who reported as white, thus it is essential to gather more diversity and see the outcomes.
Rivier concluded, "One important next step is to replicate these findings in different populations, especially groups from other races/ ethnic backgrounds. If this research is confirmed, taking measures to improve oral health could lead to significant benefits at a population level. It must be noted that our study is preliminary, and more evidence needs to be gathered, ideally through clinical trials, to show that improving oral health in the population leads to brain health benefits."
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