Doing This One Thing Twice a Day Lowers Your Dementia Risk, Study Says

Keeping up with a simple hygiene habit can have a huge payoff later in life.

There's a lot that goes on between your alarm going off and finally getting out the door each morning. But besides getting yourself to look your best for the day, it turns out some daily habits can have a huge effect on keeping your brain healthy years down the line. That's because a new study has found that brushing your teeth twice a day can lower your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Read on to see why taking care of your pearly whites can be beneficial for your brain, and for more on how to do oral hygiene right, check out This Is the Absolute Worst Time to Brush Your Teeth, Dentists Say.

"Bad" mouth bacteria can lead to an increase in "plaque proteins" in the brain.

A young woman is standing in front of the bathroom mirror and brushing her teeth. Horizontally framed shot.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from NYU's College of Dentistry and Weill Cornell Medicine, was recently published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring. The researchers examined 48 seniors over the age of 65 who exhibited no signs of dementia by conducting oral swabs and collecting cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples. The team then looked at the levels of both good and bad microbes that were found in each patient.

The study found that patients who had higher levels of good bacteria in their mouths had lower levels of amyloids in their spinal fluid. According to previous studies, amyloids are the protein that can build up in the nervous system, forming plaques that can interfere with neural signals firing that eventually leads to cell death and dementia, the New York Post reports.

An imbalance of bacteria can lead to gum disease, which likely affects amyloid levels.

older white woman brushing her teeth in the mirror

According to the results, researchers concluded that a higher level of good bacteria could help decrease inflammation and maintain a balance of flora and in the mouth. "Our results show the importance of the overall oral microbiome—not only of the role of 'bad' bacteria but also 'good' bacteria—in modulating amyloid levels," Angela Kamer, PhD, associate professor of periodontology and implant dentistry at NYU College of Dentistry and the study's lead author, said in a statement.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study showing an association between the imbalanced bacterial community found under the gumline and a CSF biomarker of Alzheimer's disease in cognitively normal older adults," Kamer added. "The mouth is home to both harmful bacteria that promote inflammation and healthy, protective bacteria. We found that having evidence for brain amyloid was associated with increased harmful and decreased beneficial bacteria." And for more brain health, check out If You Have This Blood Type, Your Dementia Risk Is High, Study Says.

Brushing your teeth twice each day can help prevent gum disease.

woman, toothbrush, toothpaste, scrub, closeup, horizontal, background

The study authors point out that the findings are also significant because 70 percent of seniors over the age of 65 suffer from periodontal disease. The disease causes pockets between teeth and gums to become inflamed and enlarged, creating conditions that can help harbor bacteria, NYU said in a press release..

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), red, swollen, or tender gums, persistent bad breath, and bleeding when you brush or floss could be signs that you've got gum disease. The ADA recommends brushing your teeth with a soft bristle brush for no less than two minutes each day to help combat the condition, as well as keeping to your regularly scheduled annual check-ups with your dentist.

Previous research has linked oral hygiene with other major health issues.

An elderly man with heart problems

This isn't the first time research has been able to find a link between brushing regularly and your overall health. In a study published Jan. 29 in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine used PET and CT scans from 304 participants to measure the inflammation in each patient's arteries and gums.

The team found that 13 individuals developed major adverse cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack, after following up with each patient four years later. This allowed them to conclude that the presence of active gum disease (seen by inflamed gums) was an early, predictive risk factor in patients who went on to experience a heart attack. And for more warning signs about your cardiovascular health, If This Wakes You Up at Night, Your Heart May Be in Danger, Experts Warn.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
Filed Under