A Link Between Dental & Mental Health?

older man lost in thoughtThe impact that your dental health can have on your overall wellbeing and quality of life is not only well-known, it’s also the subject of extensive studies by experts from across the world. For instance, Professor Gary Slade from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his team of colleagues recently sought to determine whether poor dental health was a risk factor for cognitive decline. Rochester dentist, Dr. Gilly Calcagno, explains the researchers’ findings, and how they exemplify the importance of maintaining a clean, healthy, and disease-free smile.

Sick Smiles and Cognitive Decline

The researchers analyzed data gathered between 1996 and 1998 from nearly 6,000 men and women aged 45-64. Nearly 13% of the participants had no natural teeth; about 1/5 of those with teeth had less than 20 of them left (compared to the 32 that an adult mouth typically develops); and more than 12% of the subjects exhibited signs of periodontal disease, such as serious bleeding, deep periodontal pockets, and inflamed gum tissues. Every participant underwent extensive cognitive tests to determine the quality of their word recall, word fluency, and skill with numbers. The team found that patients with no or fewer teeth, or who suffered from periodontal disease, scored notably worse on cognitive tests than subjects with more teeth and better periodontal health. More testing is required to determine if the relationship between poor dental health and cognitive function is causal, meaning one condition contributes to the other. However, experts warn that the results exemplify the potential relationship between different chronic, inflammatory conditions, such as gum disease and the systemic inflammation associated with the loss of cognitive function.

The Many Roles of Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response by your body’s immune system to fight off malicious microbes inside of your body. Unfortunately, some germs can evade your immune system’s attempts to destroy them, such as the oral bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis. Unchecked inflammation is a risk factor shared by poor dental health and cognitive decline, as well as heart disease and a host of other systemic health issues. When P. gingivalis enters the circulatory system through diseased oral tissues, it can travel and spread the harm of excessive inflammation throughout your body’s vulnerable organs. Excellent hygiene at home and routine dental checkups and cleanings can help you control the presence of inflammation-causing germs and reduce your risks for health issues linked to rampant inflammation.

About Dr. Calcagno:

Dr. Gilly Calcagno is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Dental Association, and the Minnesota Dental Association, and is active in local dental implant study clubs. To schedule a consultation, or to learn more about how the ACA will affect your family’s dental care, call Calcagno Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry today at (507) 281-3659.