A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that poor oral health increased the risk for dementia and other diseases. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body. Risk of cognitive decline is yet another reason we should pay attention to what we do (or don’t do) for all aspects of our health — even the parts that don’t “seem” connected.
The digestion process starts in the mouth as food enters the body and gets broken down along the way. Brushing your teeth and flossing regularly helps to keep your mouth healthy and strong to be able to continue breaking down our food. A breakdown of oral health can look like gingivitis when the gums become swollen or irritated; and eventually progress to periodontitis, where the gums separate from the teeth leaving open space for bacteria. Tooth loss then often occurs.
This breakdown in oral health also leads to excess inflammation in the body, as bacteria are more readily able to enter the bloodstream between the gums and teeth. We see this inflammation occur in the gut often with dysbiosis (aka “leaky gut”), and know that it can lead to a host of issues ranging from chronic fatigue to depression, anxiety, and more. Doctors and researchers are even suggesting that this inflammation caused by diet (and now poor dental hygiene) can also affect our risk of developing dementia earlier on.
The best way to improve your oral health and reduce your dementia risk is to kick processed foods
In order to support oral health, there are two main things that should be taken into account: dental hygiene and diet (sound familiar?).
Dental hygiene is relatively simple and everything you learned as a kid. Brush your teeth a few times per day, and try to floss as often as possible. You’re only hurting yourself if you skip oral hygiene.
As for food choices, stop me if you’d heard this speech before: a diet high in processed foods has the most negative impact on oral health. Foods that are highly processed — especially those high in sugar — are the biggest culprit of tooth decay in younger individuals.
Aiming to reduce processed foods in your diet, or at least making a point to brush your teeth immediately after eating or drinking them, can help to improve your dental hygiene and overall health. Specifically, products like crackers, or sweetened beverages like soda (even diet soda), can be extremely detrimental to oral health.
Whole and unprocessed foods like meat, poultry, fresh fruits and veggies, and dairy products can all help support a healthy microbiome (including in your mouth!).