It’s no secret what using a toothbrush does for the health of your smile. Proper dental hygiene does wonders; preventing gingivitis, plaque buildup and tooth decay. But new research is suggesting that brushing your teeth has one other long-term benefit — it might reduce your chances of developing dementia later in life. And that’s something everyone should smile about!
Dementia is a brain condition that results in a loss of mental function. Derived from the Latin word for “madness”, it affects memory, thinking, judgment and behavior and is typically incurable. People can develop dementia through a variety of other diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease. There are a few types of dementia, but the leading type is definitely Alzheimer’s disease in people aged sixty and older. The effects can cause real concern, frustration and sadness for the loved ones caring for the victim, especially if the victim still lives with them.
Researchers at the University of California have recently completed an 18-year study of nearly 5,500 elderly people and have made a Dental Discovery! Those who reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were up to 65% likelier to develop dementia than those who reported brushing their teeth daily. The study participants were all in the 52-105 age range, averaging about 81 years old. None of the participants had dementia when the study began. After eighteen years the research team discovered that 1,145 people had developed dementia.
Annlia Paganini-Hill, who led the study, said that there are some studies suggesting that Alzheimer’s sufferers have more of the bacteria related to gum disease than those without dementia. Somehow, gum disease is affecting the brain, causing inflammation and brain damage. What’s interesting is the difference in women and men. Women, based just on this study, seem more prone to the condition — 1 in every 3.7 women who brushed their teeth infrequently developed dementia, compared to 1 in 6 irregularly-brushing men.
Of course, this isn’t definitive by any means. Amber Watts studies dementia at the University of Kansas and wasn’t involved with the study. She reminds us that malnutrition and head injury are also major causes of tooth loss in adults, and they could both contribute to dementia risks. So brushing your teeth doesn’t definitely prevent Alzheimer’s, but it absolutely wouldn’t hurt.