Proper Oral Health Habits May Protect Your Brain

Oral Health

Pointers at Glance

  • The preliminary results from a new study suggest that people who are genetically predisposed to dental problems such as cavities and other issues may have a higher risk of evolving structural changes in the brain associated with cognitive decline.
  • Previous research has linked oral health issues like gum disease, missing teeth, poor oral hygiene, and plaque buildup to an increased risk of stroke and risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure.

The study’s lead author, Cyprien Rivier, MD, a neurology researcher at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, stated that it had not been previously determined if the poor state of a person’s oral health has an impact on their brain health, specifically the functioning of their brain, which can now be better understood through the use of neuroimaging tools such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Poor Oral Health Genes Linked To Structural Damage In The Brain

The study looked at data from approximately 40,000 adults without a history of stroke who participated in the UK Biobank. The participants were screened for over 100 genetic variants known to increase the likelihood of dental problems and underwent brain MRI scans to look for structural damage and white matter hyperintensities, both of which are linked to an increased risk of stroke and impairments in memory, balance, and mobility.

Preliminary results showed that individuals who were genetically susceptible to cavities, missing teeth, or dentures had a higher amount of white matter hyperintensities and structural damage visible on their MRI scans. However, more research is needed to confirm the link between oral health and brain health and to determine whether good oral health habits can prevent brain changes associated with stroke and cognitive decline.

The study has some limitations, including its preliminary nature and the fact that the predominantly white European participants from the UK Biobank may not represent other racial and ethnic groups. It is also unclear how big a role genetics may play in the relationship between oral health and brain health.

Environmental factors such as smoking and health conditions like diabetes may have a stronger impact on oral health than any genetic marker. Despite these limitations, experts advise paying attention to oral hygiene and health, as those with poor brain health may be less attentive to oral health than those with normal brain health.

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