Dental problems have been connected to a surprising number of overall health issues. One study that followed 597 men for 32 years found that periodontal disease – more commonly known as gum disease – is associated with a decline in cognitive function. What’s the reason behind this link? Here’s how gum health is related to brain health – and why regular visits to a dentist in Huber Heights could be even more important than you realize.
Understanding Gum Disease
First, it’s important to understand what is meant by “gum disease.” You’re no doubt aware that bacteria in your mouth can form plaque on your teeth and cause cavities. These same bacteria can infect your gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest for of gum disease which is characterized by inflammation and bleeding. If left untreated, gingivitis may eventually become periodontitis, causing your gums to recede and easily-infected pockets to form; this can ultimately lead to losing teeth.
Linking Gum Health with Mental Health
So why is there an apparent link between diseased gums and cognitive decline? The answer could lie with the bacterial source of gum disease.
Some studies have found that P. gingivalis, a kind of bacteria commonly involved with periodontitis, can often be found in the brains of patient’s with Alzheimer’s. One theory is that the bacteria enter the blood vessels in the gums and travel throughout the body, causing damage throughout. If they enter the brain, the enzymes they excrete combined with the body’s immune response may cause neurological damage.
To be clear, it has not yet been definitively concluded that gum disease directly leads to cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s makes the brain more susceptible to infection, so the presence of bacteria could be an incidental result of the condition rather than the cause. That said, research is still being performed.
Protecting Your Gums for Your Overall Health
Unhealthy gums have also been linked to other serious conditions such as heart disease. Conversely, good oral health tends to relate to good health overall. For this reason, it’s important to protect your teeth and gums from infection and decay.
Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and floss at least once; if you have trouble with traditional dental floss, water picks or interdental brushes may help with particularly hard-to-reach areas. Cut down on sugary foods and drinks that can encourage plaque buildup and be careful of drinking too much alcohol. And of course, you’ll want to answer one of the most important questions when it comes to oral hygiene: “Is there a good dentist near me?”
About the Author
Dr. James A. Striebel has been practicing dentistry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with several dental associations, including the Dayton Dental Society and the Ohio Dental Association. For patients with gum disease that can make existing health issues worse, he offers periodontal treatment that can thoroughly clean the mouth of bacteria. To schedule an appointment at his practice, visit his website or call (937) 235-2400.