Have you ever considered the link between your gums and brain health? Though it sounds a bit bizarre, medical science has proven a connection between the health of your gums and your brain – another reason it’s vital to keep your mouth healthy.
When gums are healthy, they are pink and feel firm. Symptoms of unhealthy gums include:
- Pain during flossing or brushing
- Red or angry-looking appearance
- Gums receding (pulling away) from the teeth
In extreme cases, some people may experience tooth loss when gums recede.
Poor gum health can seriously impact your brain. When the tissues in the gums become infected, that bacteria can travel via the bloodstream to your brain. In a January 2019 study (Dominy et al, 2019), scientists shared that the inflammatory bacteria found in periodontal disease (gum disease) patients, called Porphyromonas gingivalis, release enzymes that can destroy nerve cells in the brain, both causing and exacerbating Alzheimer’s Disease.
Another bacteria, called Fusobacterium nucleatum, is often found in oral conditions like periodontal disease. A study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience has found that this bacteria can aggravate and make Alzheimer’s worse since it can cause unusual growth of cells in the brain that remove infections, leading to even more inflammation(Yan et al, 2022).
Avoiding periodontal disease is imperative to keeping a good, healthy relationship between your mouth, your brain, and the rest of your body.
What Causes Periodontal Disease?
Also called periodontal disease, gum disease occurs when there is a buildup of a filmy substance called plaque. Plaque contains many different kinds of bacteria, which can destroy teeth enamel, the roots of your teeth, and even the bones below the gum line. If plaque stays on your teeth for a long time, it hardens and becomes tartar, which only a dental professional can remove.
There are many things that can contribute to a buildup of plaque and overall poor oral health:
Everyone needs to stay on top of their oral hygiene, but those with diabetes should pay extra attention. When a person has diabetes, they may have less saliva, leading to xerostomia (dry mouth). A dry mouth creates the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.
On top of this, diabetics may have saliva that contains more glucose since they often have higher blood sugar levels in the body. This glucose can feed the bacteria sitting around teeth and gums, enabling it to become plaque more quickly.
Poor oral hygiene
An incomplete oral hygiene routine is one of the biggest causes of periodontal disease. When proper brushing and flossing techniques aren’t followed, bacteria isn’t cleared out of the mouth. As bacteria grows, it becomes plaque, which begins to eat away at the enamel and gums.
Many studies have shown that a balanced diet plays a big part in periodontal health. Nutrient-dense meals are a great choice, and making sure you incorporate calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B12 in your daily routine can give you a leg up when it comes to your oral health.
A 2021 study established a direct link between gum disease and those suffering from depression (Zemedikun et al, 2021) – and other studies have established that each disease can contribute to the other (Dumitrescu, 2016). In addition to chemical imbalances caused by depression that can contribute to periodontal disease, if you struggle with depression, you may be less motivated to care for yourself, and your oral health may suffer.
Some genetic factors that impact inflammatory response may increase the risk of developing periodontitis (Loos & Dyke, 2020). the condition. If your siblings or parents have dealt with poor gum health, it’s worth discussing it with your dentist (if they haven’t already asked you about it).
A lower education level may impact susceptibility to developing periodontal disease. One study found that those with less education were more likely to have deep periodontal pockets or spaces around the teeth (Borrel et al. 2006). Periodontal pockets deeper than 5 mm are a strong indicator of periodontal disease.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of periodontal disease, and the condition gets worse quickly for smokers as well. When you smoke, more plaque builds on your teeth, and less oxygen is allowed into the bloodstream. Oxygen promotes healing, so less oxygen means your body has less of a chance to fight the infection.
Vaping, while often used as a smoking cessation, is terrible for oral health as well. A study published in iScience in early 2020 discovered that 43% of people who vape have gum disease or another oral infection (Pushalkar et al., 2020).
How You Can Help Your Brain By Taking Care of Your Gums?
There are many things to do to prevent gum disease. If you start now, you can make major improvements to your oral health, improving the condition of your teeth and gums – and so look after your brain.
Brush and floss your teeth
The easiest habit to add to your routine is regular brushing and flossing. We recommend brushing your teeth after every meal and flossing at least once per day. If you notice plaque is a consistent concern (or your dentist mentions that), you might want to try an electric toothbrush.
There are many different types of dental floss to choose from, and not every mouth is the same. Waxed, unwaxed, or a water flosser may be ideal for you.
Monitor any changes in your oral health
When you brush and floss, take a peek inside your mouth. Does everything look alright? What colour are your gums? Is anything tender? Do you see any blood? Keeping an eye on your own oral health is a great idea and is helpful information to report back to your dental professional at your next appointment.
Choose nutrient-dense foods that are packed full of vitamins
Make sure you eat your fruits and vegetables! A well-rounded diet with whole foods can keep your whole body healthy, and your teeth and gums will thank you. Remember, calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 are important for your oral health, but they’re not the only nutrients that matter. If you’re unable to get enough vitamins and minerals into your diet, speak to your doctor or dentist about supplements.
Quit smoking or vaping
Smoking and vaping make the mouth super dry, which creates the perfect environment to breed bacteria. While vaping is technically a little less harmful than smoking, it’s still not safe for your mouth. Carcinogens in cigarettes eat away at teeth and gums, and vape liquids contain high concentrations of toxic chemicals.
Get rid of the alcohol
Alcohol can disrupt the body’s microbiome, leading to an imbalance and creating conditions where gum disease thrives. Finding non-alcoholic options, especially those lower in sugar, is a great move for your oral health.
Know your risks
Talk to your family to learn if they’ve experienced gum disease. There is a genetic predisposition to the condition, so arm yourself with the information. If you discover it runs in your family, let your dentist know, so it can be added to your patient file.
Use non-sugary mouthwash
Not only does mouthwash freshen your breath, but it can reduce plaque and fight tooth decay. It’s a wonderful step to add to your oral health routine! Make sure you’re picking the right mouthwash for you – and make sure not to rinse with water after, which can diminish the cleaning effects on your teeth and gums.
What Can You Do To Keep Your Brain and Mouth Healthy?
Gum disease is a serious oral health issue that can have far-reaching consequences beyond just the mouth.
If your gums bleed during brushing, look swollen, or red, or you have bad breath that just won’t go away, it’s time to book an appointment with your dentist to see what’s going on with your oral health. Also, if you notice incessant bad breath, shifting teeth, or a change in your bite, make an appointment right away.
Gum disease is preventable, especially if caught in the earliest stages. If gum disease is left untreated, you’re not only leaving yourself susceptible to cognitive decline but other oral conditions like jawbone deterioration. At an appointment, you’ll receive a thorough assessment and cleaning, with clear information about the next steps. Book an appointment with Dr. Bains and take control of your dental health!
Dominy, S.S., Lynch, C., Ermini, F., Benedyk, M., Marcyzk, A., Konradim A., Nguyen, M., Haditsch, U., Raha, D., Griffin, C., Holsinger, L. J., Arastu-Kapur, S., Kaba, S., Lee, A., Ryder, M.l., Potempa, B., Mydel, P., Hellvard, A., Adamowicz, K.,… Potempa, J. Porphyromonas gingivalis in Alzheimer’s disease brains: Evidence for disease causation and treatment with small-molecule inhibitors. 2019. NIH, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aau3333
Yan, C., Diao, Q., Zhao, Y., Zhang, C., He, X., Huang, R., & Li, Y. Fusobacterium nucleatum infection-induced neurodegeneration and abnormal gut microbiota composition in Alzheimer’s disease-like rats. 2022. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 16. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2022.884543
Zemedikun, D.T., Chandan, J.S., Raindi, D., Rajgor, A.D., Margadhmane, K. G., Thomas, T., Falahee, M., Pablo, P.D., Lord, J.M., Raza, K., & Nirantharakumar, K. Burden of chronic diseases associated with periodontal diseases: a retrospective cohort study using UK primary care data. 2021. BMJ Open, 11(12), https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/12/e048296.info
Dimitrescu, A.L.. Depression and Inflammatory Periodontal Disease Considerations – An Interdisciplinary Approach. 2016. Frontiers In Phsychology, 7, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00347
Loos, B.G. & Van Dyke, T.E. The role of inflammation and genetics in periodontal disease. 2020. Periodontology 2000, 83(1), https://doi.org/10.1111/prd.12297
Borrell, L.N., Beck, J.D., & Heiss, G. Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Periodontal Disease: The Dental Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. 2006. American Journal of Public Health, 9(2), 332-339, https://doi.org/10.2105%2FAJPH.2004.055277
Pushalkar, S., Paul, B., Li, Q., Yang, J., Vasconcelos, R., Makwana, S., González, J.M., Shah, S., Xie, C., Janal, M.N., Queiroz, E., Bederoff, M., Leinwand, J., Solarewicz, J., Xu, F., Aboseria, E., Guo, Y., Aguallo, D., Gomez, C., … & Saxena, D. Electronic Cigarette Aerosol Modulates the Oral Microbiome and Increases Risk of Infection. 2020. iScience, 23(3), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2020.100884