Under the Hood

How Does Oral Health Affect Brain Health?

An article published in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology in 2010 revealed that gum disease could increase a person's risk of heart disease by 20 percent, though further research in this area is still deemed necessary.

On the other hand, research teams from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, were presently looking at the association of oral health to brain health.

An evidence linking oral health to a decline in the cognitive features such as memory and executive function was found in a recently published review of 23 studies.

Researchers from Rutgers University conducted two separate studies that both appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The studies looked into decreased cognition and perceived stress in Chinese American adults aged 60 the least.

XinQi Dong, director of Rutgers University's Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, explained that racial and ethnic minority groups are specifically susceptible to the negative impact of poor oral health. "Minorities have less access to preventive dental care that is further exacerbated by language barriers and low socioeconomic status,” he said.

Dong continued that older Chinese Americans are at certain risk for experiencing oral health symptoms because of lack of dental insurance or not regularly visiting a dental clinic.

There were 2,700 Chinese Americans from the Population Study of Chinese Elderly in Chicago (PINE) interviewed in the conducted studies.

On the first study, the participants were asked on their oral health and were given five cognitive tests to finish. On the second study, they were asked if they ever had dry mouth issues and gauge their stress levels, social support and social strain utilizing pre-defined scales.

Out of the total number of participants examined, nearly half reported tooth-related symptoms and more than 25 precent said they had dry mouth. 

No significant connection between gum and cognitive problems were found but a link between reduced cognition and tooth symptoms were discovered in the study as well as dry mouth to perceived stress.

However, researchers were convinced that the subjects might not have reported gum issues due to perceiving them as less problematic.

The team believes that the results of their studies invite better understanding of the oral health and psychosocial influences of the examined population and that ensuring good oral condition of older Chinese Americans should be their chief goal.

According to Weiyu Mao, author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Nevada's School of Social Work, interventions has to go beyond the usual risk factors, like the health conditions and behaviors and account for the psychosocial determinants such stress and social support.

"Inclusive efforts such as these could even go some way to reducing cognitive decline," Mao said.

Tooth loss Tooth loss is another symptom of diabetes, especially in African Americans. Partha S. Sahana CC BY 2.0

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