Can Flossing Your Teeth Prevent Dementia?

By September 4, 2020Health Tips

We all know that taking care of your teeth is important and we have all been told that we need to brush and floss our teeth regularly for good oral health.  Flossing your teeth regularly is an important factor to help prevent gum disease.  Did you know that taking good care of your teeth and gums can also improve your overall health?  Let’s talk about some of the general health benefits of maintaining good dental health.

Can Flossing Your Teeth Prevent Dementia?What is the connection between oral health and general medical health?
Your mouth is just teeming with bacteria.  Most of them are harmless, and some are even beneficial to you.  However, your mouth is the entry point to your digestive tract and your respiratory tract.  If these bacteria get out of control or into other locations, they may not be so harmless.
When you take good care of your teeth with regular brushing and flossing, the bacteria levels are kept in check, and your body’s natural defenses keep the bacteria under control.
If you don’t take good care of your teeth, the bacteria can reach higher levels that can lead to infections within your mouth, and can cause tooth decay and gum disease.  These high levels of bacteria can more easily spread to other areas of your body, leading to general medical health problems.
Sometimes the reverse is true as well, with general health problems leading to oral health problems.
What general health conditions can be linked to or caused by poor oral health?
  • Dementia or cognitive impairment – Several studies, including a large study just published in July 2020, have shown that people with higher levels of tooth and gum disease have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia or mild cognitive impairment as they get older.
  • Endocarditis – This is an infection on the valves of your heart.  It typically occurs when bacteria from other parts of the body, often the mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to the valves of your heart.  This is a very serious condition that can lead to death if not treated.  It can cause damage to heart valves even if it is treated.
  • Cardiovascular disease – Studies suggest that heart disease, stroke, and blocked arteries are linked to the inflammation and infections caused by high levels of bacteria in the mouth.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications – Infections in the mouth have been linked to premature birth and low birth weight in newborns.
  • Pneumonia – Bacteria can be pulled into your lungs under certain circumstances and cause pneumonia or other respiratory diseases.
  • Poor control of Diabetes – Research shows that diabetics with gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.  Regular periodontal care can improve diabetes control.
What general health conditions can adversely affect your oral health?
  • Diabetes – Diabetes reduces your body’s ability to resist infections.  This puts your gums and teeth at risk from the bacteria levels in the mouth.  Keeping the bacteria levels under control is even more important for diabetic patients!
  • HIV/AIDS – These patients often have painful lesions within the mouth, which can lead to diminished oral care.
  • Osteoporosis – The bone loss or weakening of bone structures associated with osteoporosis can cause tooth loss.  Some medications used to treat osteoporosis also carry a small risk of damage to the jaw bones.
  • Dry mouth – Some medications and some medical conditions can cause you to have a dry mouth due to reduced saliva production.  Saliva provides an invaluable service to your body, washing away food debris, and neutralizing acid that is produced by bacteria.  Without adequate saliva production, your oral health deteriorates.
  • Dementia – Patients with dementia tend not to take care of their teeth and gums, which can lead to worsening oral health.
You may have noticed there are two conditions that are on both lists!
What is the take-home message?
We should all be taking good care of our teeth and gums!  This will not only keep your teeth and gums healthy, but also help to maintain your overall health over your lifetime.
What can you do to protect your oral health?
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss your teeth daily
  • Eat a healthy diet, limiting foods with added sugars
  • Replace your tooth brush every 3 months
  • Have regular checkups and cleanings with your dentist
  • Avoid all use of tobacco, including smoking, chewing tobacco, or snuff.

If you have any questions about oral health, please log into your account and send
us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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