The Connection Between Oral Health And Brain Health

Dr. Christopher Li Etobicoke - Li Family Dental

By Dr. Christopher Li

June 28, 2023

connection between oral health and brain health, dental care, dental health, gum disease, health and wellness, oral care, oral health

Most of us tend to our oral hygiene regime out of habit, with little thought to why we do it. It’s simply part of our daily routine. However, your oral hygiene plays a vital role in your overall wellness. In addition, the latest findings show us that oral health can directly impact your brain. Here is what the studies tell us about the connection between oral health and brain health. 

Why Do Oral Bacteria Affect The Brain?

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Understanding how and why oral bacteria affect the brain is more complicated than you might think. According to The National Institute of Aging (NIA), adults 65 years or older with symptoms of mouth infections and gum disease were at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). The antibodies of the oral bacterium Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) and other harmful bacteria can use vulnerable, damaged gum tissue as a pathway to the brain, forming bacteria clusters that increase the likelihood of AD.  

How Do Oral Bacteria Affect The Brain?

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The NIA study found that the wounds caused by periodontal disease provide the pathogen’s pathway to the brain. The wounds around the crevice surrounding the teeth, called the sulcular epithelium, can create widening portals for pathogens when we brush our teeth, floss, and chew. This allows the bacteria to establish itself in the brain. When bacteria colonize the brain, they secrete gingipains, a harmful enzyme. This enzyme damages the “hippocampus”, the area of the brain where memories are stored.  

How Are Oral Health And Brain Health Connected To Alzheimer’s?

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In 2019, a study was published suggesting the bacteria causing gum disease can increase risk for AD. According to Harvard Health, when P. gingivalis travels to the brain, the release of gingipains attacks and destroys nerve cells leading to memory loss, marking a tipping point for dementia symptoms and Alzheimer’s. Findings are based on a study examining the brains of diseased Alzheimer’s patients that showed high levels of the enzyme. 

Stroke Research:  How The Brain Is Affected By The Bacteria In Your Mouth

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Research on stroke and oral health conducted between 2014 and 2021 indicates a likely connection between oral health and brain health. According to the American Dental Association, the research found poor oral health, such as gum disease, missing teeth, and lack of plaque removal, could increase the risk of stroke.

The 40,000 study participants did not have a history of stroke. Averaging the age of 57, they were screened for genetic variants known to increase the risk for oral health issues. Those prone to problems such as wearing dentures, missing teeth, and cavities had a higher number of what is known as “silent cerebrovascular disease”, the occurrence of stroke where symptoms were not detected. Also, damage to the fine architecture of the brain was increased in those with genetically poor oral health. 

Promoting Improved Oral Care To Help Prevent Brain Health Issues

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Dentists concerned about the risks of poor oral health suggest that patients with gum disease should be assessed to determine the right frequency for their professional cleanings and checkups. With increased scaling and treatments such as root planing, patients can help control plaque buildup and gum disease. They also recommend other additions to dental checkups, including:

  • Antimicrobial and pathogen tests
  • Antimicrobial rinses or chlorhexidine gelatin matrix application
  • The delivery of localized antibiotics
  • Removing pathogens using laser decontamination
  • Balancing the oral microbiome with oral prebiotics

Discussing lifestyle can also help identify behaviours that increase the risk of oral health issues. For example, dentists can recommend lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking to help improve oral health. Smoking releases toxins that cause gum inflammation that can send harmful bacteria to the brain.

What Is Oral Microbiome?

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Your oral “microbiome” consists of 300 to 700 microbial species of good and bad bacteria living in your mouth. A healthy microbiome has a higher balance of good bacteria that contributes to oral health, helping prevent gum disease and tooth decay. However, it also aids in healthy digestion, maintaining blood pressure, and supporting metabolism.

How To Improve Oral Microbiome Balance

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A healthy oral microbiome begins with an effective daily oral hygiene regime. However, there are other steps you can take to improve your oral microbiome health, including:

Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic supplements support friendly bacteria, creating a biofilm that protects your teeth and gums. Also found in foods such as yogurt, probiotics reduce gum inflammation and improve enamel strength, so harmful bacteria are less effective at causing decay. Probiotics also support gut health, help maintain a healthy pH balance in saliva, and improve enamel remineralization.

Add Nutrient-Dense Foods To Your Diet

Nutrient-dense foods such as greens help good bacteria thrive. Other foods to include in your diet are:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli
  • Organic meat and poultry
  • Healthy oils like avocado and extra virgin olive oil
  • Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, and pickles

 Reduce Unhealthy Sugars

Sugar occurs naturally in foods, but when added to foods like candy, baked goods, syrups, drinks, etc., it helps bad bacteria in your oral microbiome thrive. Therefore, avoiding sugar as much as possible is always best for oral health and maintaining balance in your oral microbiome.

Keep Up Healthy Saliva Production

We need healthy minerals in saliva to maintain a balanced oral microbiome. Calcium and phosphorus keep teeth healthy, but if you have lower saliva production, it becomes overly acidic. Acidic saliva interferes with your microbiome balance. Therefore, if you suffer from dry mouth, you should speak to your dentist. They can consider possible causes, such as medications you might be taking, and recommend ways to improve saliva production.    

Dental Checkups To Improve Oral Health

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Dental checkups allow your dentist or hygienist to improve your oral hygiene regime. Through your dental exam and cleaning, they can identify trouble areas prone to plaque buildup and suggest ways to improve your oral health care regime, including:

  • Recommending switching to an electric toothbrush
  • Pointing out areas you are missing when you brush and floss
  • Recommending tools to improve plaque removal, such as interdental brushes or oral irrigators
  • Providing a prescription for professional-strength mouthwash
  • Showing you how to brush and floss properly
  • Recommending the best toothpaste for your needs

Improving your daily home routine will help reduce inflammation, remove plaque, and improve oral microbiome balance… leading also to better brain health.

To learn more about how you can protect your brain by taking care of your mouth, give us a call at 416-232-2033 or request an appointment by clicking here.

Dr. Christopher Li

About the author

Doctor Christopher Li, DDS
Dr. Chris, as he is affectionately known, is a licensed dentist with over 20 years experience. His caring personality makes even the most tentative person at ease. Patients are constantly commenting about how Dr. Chris is incredible at delivering pain-free freezing, and how he has an amazing chair-side manner.  Dr. Chris loves sharing information with his patients and everyone who has teeth about how to care for their teeth, avoid tooth decay, and the treatments available to help them overcome their tooth pain or other dental issues so they can enjoy life and food to its fullest!

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