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Flossing at least once a day can improve dental health, experts say. McKinsey Jordan/Stocksy
  • Experts say good dental health can decrease inflammation in the mouth and reduce the risk of a variety of diseases and conditions.
  • In a new study, researchers say people who maintain good oral health may lower their risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
  • Experts say you can achieve good dental health by brushing your teeth two to three times a day and visiting a dentist twice a year.

People with poor dental hygiene are 21 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

That’s according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that found that poor oral health as well as tooth loss increased the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

“From a clinical perspective, our findings emphasize the importance of monitoring and management of periodontal health in the context of dementia prevention,” the study authors wrote.

“Given the impact of cognitive deterioration on periodontal health, oral health professionals are well-placed to track and intervene in early changes in periodontal health and oral self-care,” they added.

Maria del Cielo Barragan-King, DDS, Ph.D., a dentist at The University of Kansas Health System, says the findings are an important reminder of the role oral hygiene plays in overall health.

“Our mouth is full of bacteria (good and bad). We need these bacteria to live in equilibrium and when our dental hygiene is missing, the bad bacteria can overcome and install in our gums. There is evidence that bacteria can travel to the brain and participate with neurodegeneration that will ultimately decline our cognitive health,” she told Healthline.

“Oral health is important for our overall quality of life. Taking care of our mouth is as important as taking care of our body. Our mouth is more exposed to the environment, and it is the entrance to our entire body,” she added.

Periodontal health refers to the health of the gums, bones, and tissues that surround and support the teeth. Previous research has linked periodontal health with systemic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Periodontal diseases can begin in the early stages of gingivitis, when gums can bleed or be swollen or red. If periodontal diseases progress to their most serious form, known as periodontitis, gums can come away from teeth and teeth can loosen or fall out completely.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of U.S. adults over 30 years of age have some form of periodontal disease. About 70% of those older than 65 have some form of periodontal disease.

Symptoms that may suggest a person has periodontal disease include bad breath, sensitive or loose teeth, and difficulties with chewing.

The study authors argue the inflammation caused by periodontitis could be one of the mechanisms through which poor periodontal health is linked to cognitive decline.

“The findings of this review might indicate the involvement of multiple mechanisms in the association between periodontal and cognitive health. Periodontitis is suggested to facilitate the development of neuroinflammation via systemic inflammation,” they wrote.

Experts say this research adds to a growing body of evidence that links oral health with systemic health.

“One of the hypothesized mechanisms by which these connections are formed is that when you have inflammation in the gums… that then allows an ingress of, say, the bacteria that causes disease into systemic circulation. And then these components find their way through the circulation and seed organs throughout the body, including the brain,” Yvonne Hernandez-Kapila, DDS, Ph.D., the associate dean of research at the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry, told Healthline.

“It’s hypothesized that part of the mechanism, how this is caused, is by neuroinflammation,” she added. “So, the bacteria just like they cause inflammation in the gums, if they find their way and their components find their way to other organ systems, the idea is that they will cause inflammation at those sites.”

Experts say the best thing people can do to protect their teeth, gums, and overall health is to start with basic oral hygiene.

“Brush their teeth twice or three times a day. Visit the dentist at least twice a year for professional cleaning and exam. Treat gingivitis and periodontal disease when needed. flossing will clean the areas in between teeth that have a higher susceptibility for bacteria collection,” Dr. Barragan-King said.

“Is never too late to change habits, periodontal disease can be controlled with the help of a dental provider but is up to the patient to continue to care for their teeth every day,” she noted.