Study Finds Link Between Oral Health, Cognitive Function

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Brushing your teeth and visiting the dentist may play a role in having a healthier brain, according to an April 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

While the Duke University researchers can't say that there's enough evidence to say that one causes the other, there appears to be a link between the number of teeth and periodontal disease with the risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

Researchers reviewed 56 studies published between 1993 and 2013 and found evidence suggesting that older people with cognitive impairment, such as dementia, are more likely to have oral health problems. The researchers say more data and research are needed to better examine the link between oral health and cognitive function.

In addition, the researchers said that many of the factors associated with poor oral health, including poor nutrition, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are also associated with poor cognitive function. According to MouthHealthy.org, the ADA's consumer website, research has shown that infections in the mouth may be associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia and other health problems that are common in adults over 60 years old.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that there will be 98 million older persons in the U.S. by 2060.

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Common Conditions For ADULTS 55+

  • Gum disease
    This potentially serious condition occurs when the gum tissues surrounding teeth become infected because of a buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is recognizable by swollen, red or bleeding gums. Gum disease is a concern for older adults for a number of reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life.

  • Tooth or root decay
    Even at 55-plus years, adults can still develop tooth or root decay if gum recession has occurred. It is important for older adults to effectively clean the gums, the teeth and exposed root surfaces to remove dental plaque and food debris.

  • Sensitive teeth
    At some point, we've all tossed back a nice, cold glass of water only to grimace at that sharp, tingling sensation in our teeth. A number of factors cause tooth sensitivity, including brushing too aggressively with a hard-bristled toothbrush, worn tooth enamel, and a cracked or fractured tooth.