Are Oral Health and Brain Health Connected?
A new study conducted by researchers from the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT, indicates that patients who have a genetic proclivity towards poor oral health are also more likely to have poor brain health. However, the study’s findings haven’t provided specifics on how these different areas of the body are linked, meaning that more research is required to fully understand the connection.
What Is Brain Health?
The brain is responsible for controlling major functions throughout the body that are vital for our survival. The organ is what enables one to think, move, breathe, and communicate. The term “brain health” refers to the brain’s ability to function properly as well as a lack of neurological diseases that can impede this functionality. There are many factors that facilitate healthy brain activity and cognitive function, allowing the body to function properly.
Some of the factors that affect brain health are brought on by an unhealthy lifestyle. Choosing to cut back on alcohol, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise all provide the conditions for good brain health.
Systemic inflammation and nutrient deficiency (which often results from the former) are major triggers for brain issues. Stress, whether caused by life experiences or physical conditions (blood sugar imbalance, a lack of sleep, systemic toxicity, etc), also contributes to these issues. That said, there is still much more research that needs to be done in order to understand exactly how these mechanics work.
Oral Care and Brain Health
The functional status of one’s brain can be examined and verified using various neuroimaging tools, including an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine. For this study, the researchers employed a special method known as mendelian randomization, which looks for correlations between genetics and health conditions.
After reviewing 100s of patients’ samples, looking for genetic variants associated with poor oral health, and the respective patient’s brain scan, the researchers discovered something. Those with a genetically-increased risk of poor oral health were also more likely to have poor brain health.
For example, patients who were genetically predisposed to develop cavities or have missing teeth had a higher incidence of silent cerebrovascular disease, a condition that affects the brain’s blood supply and leads to microstructural damage.
Based on the findings of this study, researchers concluded that treating oral health conditions early on could lead to a major decrease in brain health issues down the line.
The Need for More Research
While Mendelian randomization tests are considered to indicate a causal relationship between the given data, it is still not 100% confirmed. Beyond that, the people analyzed in this study were British citizens who were primarily white. As such, there is a need for further research to confirm that the purported phenomenon is consistent across demographics and geographic regions.
Nonetheless, there have been confirmed data for quite some time on the fact that poor oral health is linked to an increased likelihood of having a stroke.
What Is the Takeaway?
While the jury is still out on how much oral health is actually connected to poor brain health, dental health should never be taken lightly. The health of one’s mouth alone should be enough of a reason to motivate one to brush and floss their teeth every day. Furthermore, there is a definite connection between poor dental health and strokes, giving patients another reason to heed the word of their dentists.