We all know the importance of flossing: those nasty bacteria that like to hide between our teeth wreak havoc on our gums unless disrupted every day. But did you know that our patient’s mental health might also benefit from good oral hygiene habits?
A researcher out of the University of Southern California studying dementia risks in twins has discovered a link between the development of Alzheimer’s later in life and good periodontal health earlier in life. The risk factors are pretty stark: individuals having periodontal disease before age 35 had four times the chances of developing dementia years later. And, researchers also found that older people suffering from poor oral hygiene and gum disease scored lower on memory and cognition tests than their peers with good oral care.
Makes sense: we know that the bacteria which cause gum disease encourage our bodies to react with an inflammatory response in an effort to kill the bacteria, only to have that inflammation cause further degradation of the gums. And we know that inflammation is bad for just about every system in the body and that the bacteria causing gum disease are implicated in many other systemic malfunctions, from heart disease to diabetes. So it isn’t a stretch to consider that our mental well-being is also be affected by our oral health.
The issue has so intrigued scientists that the British Dental Health Foundation has invested $1.3 million in order to better understand the connection between oral health and mental health. So next time one of your younger patients confesses that they only floss the day before they see their hygienist, tell them to floss daily while they can still remember to do so!