How Oral Health Impacts Brain Health

Oral health has often been a good indicator of overall physical and mental health, especially in older adults. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society is further exploring the connection between teeth and the brain.

The study used data on 62,333 participants from the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES) project. All participants were over the age of 65 and all were determined to be physically and cognitively independent. A baseline survey was conducted between August 2010 and January 2012, and a follow-up survey was administered between January 2013 and December 2013; both surveys consisted of self-administered questionnaires.

The questionnaires included the self-reported number of teeth (20+ natural teeth, 10-19, 1-9 or no natural teeth) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology Index of Competence (TMIG-IC), which assesses high-level functional capacity with 13 questions.

The researchers accounted for external factors such as sex, age, medical history, social components and more. They found that participants with fewer than 20 teeth tend to be older than those with more than 20 teeth. They also found that individuals with fewer remaining natural teeth often had a lower socioeconomic status and worse health behaviors.

More importantly, the researchers found that participants with 10 to 19 teeth had a TMIG-IC score that was 0.035 points lower than participants with 20 or more teeth. Participants with 9 teeth or less had significantly lower TMIG-IC scores. The study also found an association between tooth loss and decline in higher-level functional capacity.

The research team believes that there are three potential causes for this association. The first is that tooth loss is often caused by inflammation, and chronic inflammation has been shown to negatively impact physical and cognitive health. Another determinant could be that poor oral health affects an individual’s ability to communicate and be social, which affects brain health. Lastly, the research team hypothesized that tooth loss could impact chewing and nutritional intake, thereby affecting physical and cognitive health.

Although there is the possibility for self-reporting bias in this study, the results lean towards an association between poor oral health and cognitive decline. Keep your teeth (and brain!) healthy by flossing and brushing twice per day – once in the morning and once before bed!