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An Unhealthy Mouth Can Be Bad for Your Brain, Too

The heart is hardly the only organ that can be affected by the health of your mouth. The brain is another. It’s susceptible to injury from the mercury released by amalgam fillings. Oral infections can lead to abscesses in the brain, aneurysms, and even death.

It’s not a very long journey from the teeth to the brain, after all – a matter of mere inches.

Poor Oral Health Shown to Raise Stroke Risk

This past week brought new evidence of how poor oral health can damage the brain, via a study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Dallas.

The study involved roughly 40,000 adults who were enrolled in the UK Biobank, a long-term study focused on genetic and environmental factors in disease. Each was screened for more than a hundred genetic variants that raise the risk of dental caries (tooth decay) and tooth loss. None had a history of stroke, but MRI images of the brain were used to screen for signs of poor brain health.

In particular, the researchers were looking for two things. The first was accumulated white matter damage, which affects memory, balance, and mobility. The other was microstructural damage, comparing the fine architecture of the brain to what you would see in the brain scan of a healthy adult of roughly the same age.

Analysis showed that those who were genetically prone to dental problems “had a higher burden of silent cerebrovascular disease.” There was a 24% jump in white matter damage and 43% more damage to the fine architecture of the brain.

Bottom line? They had a higher risk of stroke.

The Brain/Mouth Connection

But why should oral health affect the brain in this way – or any other part of the body, for that matter? Dr. Alan Reisinger of the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health offered one explanation to Healthline:

One possible reason is that when the body fights the bacteria that cause gum disease, it raises inflammation throughout the body. This systemic inflammation can increase a person’s risk for a host of problems including heart attacks, strokes, dementia, pregnancy complications, and certain cancers.

At the same time, we also know that lifestyle factors known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues – a nutrient-dense, low carb diet; exercise; quality sleep; and so on – also reduce the risk of gum disease. By addressing one set of risks, you automatically address the other.

And, of course, there are energetic connections, that can play a role, too, not to mention the presence of certain dental situations in the mouth, such as mercury fillings, infected root canal teeth, and cavitations, all of which have been found to contribute to a range of systemic health issues (including cardiovascular ones) in vulnerable patients.

You’re In Control of Your Oral Health

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Cyprien Rivier, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at Yale, offered a bit of good news/bad news in a media release for the American Heart Association.

The bad news? “Poor oral health happens frequently.” And indeed it does. At least half of all American adults – and roughly 70% of seniors – have some degree of gum disease. By the time they’re in their 60s, almost everyone has had tooth decay at one time or another.

The good, even great, news? Oral health, reminds Dr. Rivier, “is an easily modifiable risk factor – everyone can effectively improve their oral health with minimal time and financial investment.”

You have the power to create and maintain a healthier mouth – and a healthier you overall. The question is, will you claim it?