Numerous studies have shown the potentially negative effects that poor oral health can have on your overall health: from diabetes to heart disease to cancer, there are plenty of reasons to keep up your dental hygiene routine. But now, a new study shows that there may be a link between poor oral health and age-related mental health problems.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers looked at 56 studies published between 1993 and 2013 that looked at the relationship between oral health and a decline in dementia and cognitive health. With an estimated 98 million older people living in the United States by the year 2060, these two areas of research are considered the most important.
“Clinical evidence suggests that the frequency of oral health problems increases significantly in cognitively impaired older people, particularly those with dementia,” lead author Dr. Bei Wu of Duke University’s School of Nursing said in a statement. “In addition, many of the factors associated with poor oral health — such as poor nutrition and systemic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease — are also associated with poor cognitive function.”
According to some of the studies analyzed by the researchers, dental health measures such as teeth count, cavity count, and gum disease were associated with a higher risk of dementia or cognitive decline. Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is experienced by 74% of Americans.
Meanwhile, a 2013 study found that the bacteria associated with periodontal disease was found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. However, the study didn’t prove that gum disease causes Alzheimer’s; it was just an association.
Yet it is important to note that the link the researchers at Duke University found isn’t strong enough to pinpoint exactly how poor dental health causes cognitive decline. It is, however, strong enough to take note of.
“There is not enough evidence to date to conclude that a causal association exists between cognitive function and oral health,” Wu said. “For future research, we recommend that investigators gather data from larger and more population representative samples, use standard cognitive assessments and oral health measures, and use more sophisticated data analyses.”