You're Twice as Likely to Develop Dementia If You Don't Do This, Study Says

Good dental health can lead to good mental health, according to these researchers.

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We all know that brushing and flossing your teeth is the key to getting your smile its whitest and brightest, but now there's another reason to stay on top of your oral health and hygiene. According to a new study published this Wednesday in the medical journal Neurology, failing to regularly brush and floss can actually double your risk of developing dementia in old age.

Advanced gum disease, known as periodontal disease, has long been associated with a range of surprising health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, obesity, and more. Now, researchers have concluded that poor oral hygiene is linked to a significantly increased risk of dementia 20 years down the line.

Ryan Demmer, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health who co-authored the study, explained his team's process to CNN. "We looked at people's dental health over a 20-year period and found that people with the most severe gum disease at the start of our study had about twice the risk for mild cognitive impairment or dementia by the end," he said.

Though the risk itself is apparent, researchers still have unanswered questions about how one's oral health might lead to such potentially serious neurological symptoms. "My core hypothesis is that bacteria in the mouth that cause periodontal disease are also a cause of systemic outcomes," said Demmer, referring to the full range of health conditions associated with poor oral health. Going by this theory, the periodontal disease isn't exactly the root cause, but another disease caused by a bacterial buildup that also causes the other ailments.

The team also suggested an alternate theory: that conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke serve as intermediaries for the development of dementia (a link between dementia and these conditions has been demonstrated in previous studies).

Regardless of exact causation, maintaining good oral hygiene by brushing, flossing, and seeing a dentist for regular checkups should cut your risk significantly by either lowering your chances of periodontal disease, or keeping its underlying bacteria buildup at bay. And for more on why you should take good care of those pearly whites, This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Floss Your Teeth.

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