Scientists have long known that our ability to think fast and clear, also known as fluid intelligence, begins to decline as we age. While some changes appear naturally with aging, researchers believe that there is a close relationship between oral health and cognitive decline.
This basically came into the focus of scientists several years ago, when some medical professionals identified a correlation between dental and other health issues. Researchers discovered that untreated tooth decay and poor oral hygiene could increase the bacterial multiplication. These bacterial microbes could enter the bloodstream and lead to dementia, stroke, and heart disease. However, the scientists could not find a direct link between cognitive and dental health.
Although the evidences in this regard are still not definitive enough to prove that one causes the other, maintaining good oral hygiene and visiting dental clinics on a regular basis has shown to play a vital role in slowing the cognitive decline as people grow older.
Last year, the findings, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society focused on the link between oral health and cognition - two key areas of research. Around 36% of people aged over 70 years live with some degree of cognitive impairment.
Dr. Bei Wu, a scientist at the Duke University School of Nursing with her colleagues analyzed 56 research studies conducted between 1993 and 2013, studying the dental health of aged people and deviations in their cognitive health. They revealed several possible links:
- Older adults struggling with cognitive problems, especially those with dementia, have a tendency to have higher rates of poor oral health.
- Individuals with tooth decay, missing teeth, or gum disease had higher possibilities of developing poor cognitive health or dementia.
- Poor nutrition and systemic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes may affect oral health and could be related to poorer cognitive status.
In this study, 59 participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease were included. Their blood samples were examined to measure the inflammatory markers. Oral health was also assessed, and after six months, 52 participants showed up for a follow-up appointment. The presence of periodontitis at baseline was linked to a six fold rise in the rate of cognitive decline over the six-month follow-up period. The results indicate that gum disease is connected with greater cognitive decline, perhaps linked to inflammatory response.
Though scientists are still collecting evidences to infer a common underlying cause of inflammation or deduce a causative relationship between oral health and cognition, various recent research findings have shown that dental problems in the elderly are associated with a greater risk of developing dementia. The presence of gum disease results in higher levels of inflammatory molecules that elevate the risk of many health issues viz. cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, stroke, etc. Studies have also suggested that effective and regular oral treatment can reduce the levels of these molecules.
This can easily be deduced from the findings that it is essential for older adults to maintain good dental health self-care practices and receive adequate dental care.
Although there is no cure for dementia, there are few effective prevention tips to protect your brain and prolong your memory. These include: eating healthy, not smoking, exercising regularly, keeping your heart healthy, avoiding head and brain injuries, playing brain games (like puzzles), taking proper sleep, treating depression or other mental health condition, leading a cheerful life and avoiding social isolation.
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