Sustainability Tip: Why brushing and flossing really matter for brain health and preventing dementia

Maintaining good oral health habits, such as brushing and flossing, may help prevent cognitive impairment and dementia. But please remember to turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth and save a gallon of water! Credit: dglimages/Adobe Stock

By Alliance President Terry Gips

We all know daily brushing and flossing is important to avoid cavities. But an NYU study points to another reason: Oral health can play a significant role in protecting against dementia and Alzheimers, in addition to other disease. Researchers analyzed 14 studies and found that adults with more tooth loss had a 1.48 times higher risk of cognitive impairment and 1.28 times higher risk of dementia. “Untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss and may also increase the risk of developing other health complications,” according to Dr. James Wilson, president of the American Academy of Periodontology.

Inflammation as a result of gum disease has been linked to other disease states, including cardiovascular disease, pancreatic cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Wilson. The CDC points out that 46% of adults over 30 have signs of gum disease, while 9% have severe gum disease. However, many aren’t aware they have it as they may not show signs and symptoms until more advanced stages.

The NYU-led analysis also noted that tooth loss could reflect “lifelong socioeconomic disadvantages, such as limited access to and quality of medical and dental care, fewer years of education, and poor nutrition.” Lead author Dr. Bei Wu said, “Income and education are very much related to oral health, probably even more so than many other chronic conditions, particularly because of the lack of dental insurance for many people.”

While proper dental care is essential as we get older, another article highlights the importance for younger people as better oral care is associated with increases in episodic memory and learning. The article also suggests other beneficial strategies for boosting brain health, including exercise, ketogenic diet, time-restricted eating, optimized vitamins B and D, reduced sugar, increasing sleep, meditation and eliminating processed food.

Given the connection between oral and overall health and the crisis we’re facing with overwhelming increases in dementia and the resources those cases demand of our society, it’s sad and unacceptable that proper dental care isn’t an essential and covered part of health care in the US.

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