A U.S. study has suggested that healthy gums and teeth may help prevent developing dementia.
Researchers at the University of California tracked roughly 5,500 elderly people over an 18-year period. Those who self-reported brushing their teeth less than once a day were 65 percent more likely to develop the signs of dementia than those who brushed daily.
Why? Gum-related bacteria is known to be the catalyst for a host of problems -- including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It may also be time to add neurodegenerative issues to the list.
According to the leader of the study, Annlia Paganini-Hill, some studies have also found that gum disease-related bacteria that has traveled to the brain is more commonly found when individuals suffer from Alzheimer's disease -- the most common form of dementia. Hill said:
"Not only does the state of your mind predict what kind of oral health habits you practice, it may be that your oral health habits influence whether or not you get dementia. It's thought that gum disease bacteria might get into the brain, causing inflammation and brain damage."
Most of the participants in the study were white, had good educational levels and were "relatively affluent", according to Reuters. The average age was 81 when the study began, and ranged between 52 and 105.
Each person was free of dementia at the beginning. After 18 years, interviews, medical records and death certificates were used to ascertain 1,145 of the 5,468 original participants had developed dementia.
One in 3.7 women developed dementia within the group that brushed their teeth less than once a day. In the group that brushed more often, the rate was closer to one in 4.5. In men, the rate was less pronounced; one in six irregular brushers developing the disease with a 22 percent "more likely" rate than daily brushers.
The study does have its limitations. Hill and her team did not carry out dental exams, behavior and tooth numbers were used as signals for oral health, and naturally other factors would have had an impact on the onset of dementia -- potentially including family history and lifestyle.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
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