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Good Oral Hygiene & Cognitive Function

What does loving to eat Gummy Bears and hating the idea of flossing have in common? Both activities, and lack thereof, can contribute to plaque on your teeth, which is also surprisingly bad for your brain and other vital organs. According to Dr. Michael Roizen, co-author of YOU – The Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger, “The plaque between teeth can cause an immune reaction that attacks arteries, which then can’t deliver vital nutrients to brain cells.” Studies suggest that gum disease, in particular, can affect the brain.  Some studies have found that older people with gum disease are more likely to have memory loss and other cognitive problems. Research reveals that diseased gums pump high levels of harmful bacteria into the bloodstream. The skin of the oral cavity is known as “oral mucosa.” It is very rich with blood vessels and if outside bacteria and the toxins that they produce get into the blood stream, they are off and running throughout your bodies.

According to a team of dentists and psychiatrists in the UK, oral health is clearly connected to cognitive health and therefore another reason to brush up on dental hygiene. There is growing interest in the relationships between aging, nutritional status, and cognitive function. Research in this area has tended to focus on advanced old age, although many of the pathways implicated may exist over a much longer period from early or mid-adult life. Oral health is recognized as being an important factor in nutritional status and general health. Periodontal disease is a common oral condition and a significant source of chronic infection and inflammation. Dietary changes because of poor oral health may lead to compromised nutritional status, both in general and through specific deficiencies.

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Following a study involving 5,138 people aged 20 to 59; the researchers discovered that periodontal disease and gingivitis were linked to poorer cognitive function and not just in later years, but also throughout adult life. The survey included a comprehensive dental examination and a series of tests to determine cognitive function.  The Symbol Digit Substitution Test and Serial Digit Learning Test were administered to test cognitive ability. Both tests were provided in English or Spanish and were preceded by a practice segment.

In the SDST, a set of nine symbols matched to the digits 1 to 9 were presented to the subject. The participants were shown a series of symbols and were required to match a symbol with its corresponding digit as quickly as possible. This task aimed to measure information processing speed, concentration and motor control. Performance in SDST was scored as the average time in seconds needed to correctly match the numbers and symbols on the best two out of four trials. Those participants with recorded data on both oral health status and individual measures of cognitive function were selected for a planned secondary analysis. In a subsample of participants aged 20 to 59 years, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and smoking status were considered as potential confounding factors; there was little evidence of this from the analysis. The association between cognitive function and oral health status seemed to be present in the results of the research study, indicating the far-reaching consequences of proper oral hygiene throughout life and for the elderly.

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About The Author: Gloria Ha’o Schneider is an expert in senior citizen and baby boomer issues. Her topics revolve around Senior Living and Healthcare to provide the latest information to this demographic as well as their families and loved ones.

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