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New Research Finds A Potential Connection Between Oral Health & Brain Health

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Despite being located in the same general region of the body, our teeth and brain don't seem like they'd be overly connected. That's why a new study linking poor oral health to poor brain health is making headlines—and it's worth paying attention to.

Are oral health and brain health connected?

This research from the Yale School of Medicine—which will be presented at the upcoming American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference—analyzed data from over 40,000 adults between 2014 and 2021. The researchers looked for differences in health outcomes over the study period and also screened the participants' genetic material. Specifically, they looked at more than 105 genes known to be connected to poor oral health outcomes.

In a nutshell, the results showed that people with genes that increased their risk for poor oral health were more likely to have severe brain damage after a stroke.

The data showed that those with poor oral health suffered worse damage to the structure of the brain—defined as more than a 43% change in the structure after a stroke—than those without those genes that contribute to poor oral health. They also showed that those with a predisposition for poor oral health experienced a higher amount of damage to the white matter in the brain following stroke. White matter1 is essentially a large web of nerve fibers that exist in your brain and help different areas communicate with one another. White matter is important for thinking, memory, and cognition.

As one of the study authors Cyprien Rivier, M.D., M.S., said of these findings in a news release, "Poor oral health may cause declines in brain health, so we need to be extra careful with our oral hygiene because it has implications far beyond the mouth."

How to support your oral health (and brain health) today.

This study is limited, and more research needs to be done to confirm this connection and reveal if there is a positive side to this link (rather, if improving oral health might help with better brain health outcomes).

That said, this study opens up a new way of thinking about our pearly whites. "Studying oral health is especially important because poor oral health happens frequently and is an easily modifiable risk factor," said Rivier. "Everyone can effectively improve their oral health with minimal time and financial investment." Here are some ways to get started today:

Limit sugar.

You heard it as a kid all the time: Sugar leads to fillings! Well, those words are still true today. When you eat sugar, bacteria in the mouth metabolise the sugars and turn them into acid, which damages the enamel of your teeth. Research shows2 that the more sugar you consume, the higher your risk for cavities.

Sugar is also connected to cognitive decline and diseases like Alzheimer's. In fact, Alzheimer's has been referred to as "Type 3 diabetes3" due to its close connection to blood sugar, diet, and lifestyle factors.

Try natural remedies.

There are plenty of natural remedies that support oral health and brain health. If you want a more DIY practice, try oil pulling, or swishing oil around in your mouth for 10 to 15 minutes. While the practice might seem a little "woo-woo" or "out there," it may actually have some legit health benefits. The whole premise behind oil pulling is that the fatty part of the oil attaches to the fatty cell membrane of the bacteria in your mouth, captures it, and then you spit the bacteria out with it. If that's not your scene, try using a water flosser to optimize oral health.

Support your oral microbiome.

The gut-brain connection is incredibly strong, and you probably already know that the health of the gut microbiome—aka, the trillions of bacteria living in our digestive system—has a huge influence on our mental health and cognition. But we also have an oral microbiome4 that needs tending to! You can take care of your oral microbiome by flossing every night, limiting the use of antiseptic mouthwash, and only drinking alcohol in moderation.

In Summary

Specific genes that put us at risk for poor oral health outcomes (think fillings, missing teeth, and dentures) might also make us more vulnerable to brain structural damage and reduced white matter after a stroke, according to new research. We still have more to learn about this connection, but for now, it's not a bad idea to tend to your oral health like your brain depends on it.

If you would like to find out more about how dental insurance can help you and your employees to maintain good oral health, why not contact us today?


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