An added blessing

I spent most of this morning in a dentist’s chair with my mouth wide open. In addition to having a broken tooth prepared for a crown and a temporary crown inserted, I had my annual cleaning and check-up. Little did I know that I might also be helping delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, though there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that a healthy lifestyle can prevent Alzheimer’s disease, studies have shown that regular exercise, a healthy diet, managing stress, getting quality sleep, staying socially active and engaging in mentally stimulating activities may help prevent or delay symptoms. Now it looks like good dental hygiene should be added to that list.

When I got home from the dentist and sat down to read the morning news the headline “Dental health linked to dementia risk” caught my eye. I was already aware of the connection between gum disease and heart disease, but dementia? As is so often the case, upon reading the article I discovered that the headline slightly overstates the case.

Apparently researchers in California who followed approximately 5500 seniors over an 18 year period found that women who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65% more likely to develop dementia than those who brushed daily. The effect appeared to be less pronounced amongst men but men who had lost all or most of their own teeth and who did not wear dentures had almost twice the incidence of dementia as their counterparts. Other studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, have more gum disease-related bacteria in their brains than people without Alzheimer’s.

This morning’s article went on to say, however, that these studies do not prove that poor dental health results in dementia or that brushing your teeth regularly will prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s disease. Clearly much more research needs to be done before a link between dental health and the risk of dementia can be proven. For example, could the evidence simply be showing that people in the very early stages of dementia often fail to practice good dental hygiene?

Either way, I was happy to hear my dentist say that, other than the broken tooth, my teeth and gums are in excellent condition. If keeping them that way has any chance of protecting me against my mother’s fate, that’s definitely an added blessing!


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