A recent study conducted by researchers has found a link between oral health and an increased risk of dementia. This is concerning as the average life expectancy in America continues to rise, leading to a higher prevalence of dementia cases. The study suggests that in order to prevent dementia, individuals should prioritize maintaining good oral hygiene along with other lifestyle factors such as a healthy diet, exercise, quitting smoking, and managing chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes.
The study collected information on oral hygiene habits, including professional dental cleanings and the frequency of tooth brushing, through a self-administered questionnaire. The researchers discovered that regular professional dental cleanings and frequent tooth brushing were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Dentists also evaluated the patients' teeth and found that periodontal diseases, dental caries, and a high number of missing teeth were linked to an increased risk of dementia.
This study adds to the existing body of evidence that establishes a connection between oral health and dementia. Previous research has explored the association between periodontitis and cognitive impairment in older adults. While these studies reveal an association, they have not proven causality.
It is worth noting that maintaining oral health is not only important for preventing dementia but also for preventing other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases, preterm birth, and low birth weight. Unfortunately, physicians often receive minimal education on oral health during their medical training, which may limit their ability to provide guidance on the topic.
To improve oral health, individuals should brush their teeth for at least two minutes twice a day, floss daily, and rinse with mouthwash. Flossing before brushing is recommended to effectively remove bacteria and food particles from beneath the gumline. It is also advised to replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months to ensure optimal cleaning.
Regular dental check-ups and cleanings are crucial for maintaining oral health. Ideally, individuals should visit the dentist every six to 12 months, or every three months if diagnosed with periodontitis. However, many Americans have not seen a dentist in the past year due to various reasons including cost, fear, inconvenience, and a lack of perceived necessity.
Access to oral care remains a significant challenge for many individuals due to disparities in healthcare coverage. Oral care is often not included in health insurance plans, making it less accessible. Additionally, preventive oral care is often overlooked, with many people only seeking dental treatment when they experience pain, which is usually an indication of advanced dental issues.
The story of Deamonte Driver, a young boy who tragically died due to a lack of timely access to dental care, highlights the disparities in oral care access in the US. Initiatives such as the Deamonte Driver Dental Project aim to address these disparities by providing dental care to children in need.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is just one lifestyle change that may decrease the risk of dementia later in life. As October is oral hygiene awareness month, it is an opportune time to prioritize oral health and express gratitude to dental professionals for their role in keeping us healthy.