This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Let’s face it — flossing doesn’t exactly fall on most people’s list of earth-shatteringly exciting activities. But this simple act, along with brushing, is one of the most important things you can do to protect the health of your teeth, gums, and believe it or not, your brain.
We all know that brushing and flossing your teeth every day is your first line of defense against gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (serious gum infection that damages the tissue that supports your teeth). But few know that preventing these gum diseases has become even more important thanks to research that has shown a link between poor oral health and cognitive decline.
In this study, researchers performed an oral health examination and cognitive function tests on 1,053 participants aged 70-79 over a five-year period. Modified mini-mental state examinations were performed at year 1 (baseline) and year 3, and a comprehensive periodontal exam at year. The cognitive testing was also performed at year 5 on 947 participants.
The results showed that worse scores on almost all oral health measures (including number of teeth, probing depth, number of sites with bleeding at probing, loss of tooth attachment and plaque scores) were associated with cognitive impairment.
Gingival inflammation was the factor most strongly associated with cognitive impairment and the only factor that predicted cognitive decline. This connection between inflammation and cognitive decline should come as no surprise, considering previous research has linked higher levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein and IL-6 with increased risk of dementia.
Protect Your Gums, Save Your Brain
You can prevent gingivitis and periodontitis simply by taking diligent care of your teeth and gums. This involves brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing once a day and seeing your dentist for a cleaning and oral examination every six months.
Periodontitis can be treated, but it’s not always an easy process — especially in advanced cases. So an ounce of prevention at home really is your best bet to protect your gums, and quite possibly your cognitive health, too.
Stewart R, et al. Adverse oral health and cognitive decline: the health, aging and body composition study. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013 Feb;6(2):177-84.
Schram MT, et al. Systemic markers of inflammation and cognitive decline in old age. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007 May;55(5):708-16.