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Caring for your teeth and gums can have additional advantages besides oral health, like improving brain health, per new research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2023.

Poor oral hygiene increases the risk of stroke

According to studies, poor oral health and hygiene, including missing teeth, gum disease, and inadequate plaque removal, increase the risk of stroke. These conditions are also linked to heart disease risk factors and other health problems like high blood pressure. UpHowever, it hasn’t been clear until recently if poor oral health affects brain health, precisely the functional status of the brain, which can now be examined using neuroimaging tools like MRI, according to Cyprien Rivier, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

There is a link between healthy lifestyle choices, brain health, and the risk of developing brain diseases. For example, the American Stroke Association estimates that three in five people in the US will develop brain disease in their lifetime. Researchers in the latest study analyzed the potential link between brain health and oral health in a survey of 40,000 adults without a history of stroke. The study evaluated the relationship between genetic risk factors for poor oral health and brain health.

Findings show poor oral health linked to brain health declines

A preliminary study found that poor oral health is associated with a decrease in brain health, as demonstrated by increased white matter hyperintensities and microstructural damage in the brain. However, the study’s results are limited to people residing in the UK. and predominantly of European ancestry, so more research among diverse populations is needed.

 The study does not prove causation, and more evidence, ideally through clinical trials, is necessary to confirm if improving oral health leads to brain health benefits. However, experts suggest that environmental factors and health conditions such as smoking and diabetes are much more potent risk factors for poor oral health than any genetic marker. Genetic profiles for increased risk of oral health may overlap with other chronic health conditions related to brain imaging markers.