The health of our teeth might play a more significant role in our overall well-being than previously thought. A recent study has unveiled a potential connection between dental health and the health of our brain.
The Study’s Findings:
Published in the July 5, 2023, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the study discovered a correlation between gum disease, tooth loss, and brain shrinkage, specifically in the hippocampus. This region of the brain is crucial for memory and is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, it’s essential to note that the study doesn’t claim gum disease or tooth loss causes Alzheimer’s but merely highlights a possible association.
Why This Matters:
Gum disease and tooth loss are widespread conditions. If they’re linked to cognitive decline, understanding this relationship becomes paramount. As study author Satoshi Yamaguchi, PhD, DDS, of Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, points out, the findings give people another compelling reason to prioritize dental health.
The research involved 172 participants, averaging 67 years old, all of whom had no memory issues at the study’s onset. They underwent dental exams, memory tests, and brain scans to measure the hippocampus volume. These tests were conducted at the beginning and then four years later.
Researchers assessed the participants’ dental health by counting their teeth and measuring gum tissue’s depth. They found a correlation between the number of teeth, the severity of gum disease, and changes in the brain’s left hippocampus.
For those with mild gum disease, having fewer teeth correlated with a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the left hippocampus. However, for participants with severe gum disease, having more teeth was linked to a faster rate of brain shrinkage in the same region.
After accounting for age, the study found that for individuals with mild gum disease, the rate of brain shrinkage due to one less tooth was similar to nearly one year of brain aging. On the other hand, for those with severe gum disease, the brain shrinkage rate due to one additional tooth equated to 1.3 years of brain aging.
Conclusion and Implications:
The study underscores the importance of not just retaining teeth but ensuring they’re healthy. As Yamaguchi suggests, merely retaining teeth with severe gum disease might be linked to brain atrophy. Regular dental check-ups to control gum disease progression are vital. In severe cases, it might be beneficial to extract teeth with significant gum disease and replace them with prosthetics.
However, Yamaguchi also emphasizes the need for more extensive studies to validate these findings. The study’s limitation was its focus on a specific region in Japan, making it essential to replicate the research in diverse locations.