When it comes to dementia, ongoing research shows that having a properly functioning masticatory system can help prevent or delay the onset of dementia. When the masticatory system (chewing) isn’t functioning right, it can increase stress hormones that contribute to cognitive decline. Taking good care of your oral health benefits your mouth, general health and mental health.
Your Amazing Brain
A healthy brain uses billions of neurons that take information and carry it to various parts of the body through electrical and chemical signals. Cognitive dysfunction such as dementia can prevent this neuron communication and even end up in death of the brain cells. This leaves you with loss of memory, disorientation, changes in personality, and even lost motor function to the point where you can lose their ability to function normally and independently.
Dementia tends to increase as you age, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2030, 82 million people will have dementia. Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia, and according to the WHO, it comprises 60% to 70% of dementia cases.
Risks for Dementia
-Race/ethnicity (highest in African-Americans)
-Not being social
-Traumatic brain injury
Masticatory dysfunction arises when teeth are lost, from muscle weakness in the masticatory system, and a misaligned bite/malocclusion which makes dementia worse. Chewing impacts brain activity and connectivity in the neural networks. If you have tooth loss, severe periodontal disease, or live on a soft diet, it can affect memory and learning.
Constant, elevated stress hormones break down physical and psychological health systems. Chewing (like moderate gum chewing) is a coping mechanism that can help diffuse stress by increases heart rate and blood flow to the cerebral artery helping with attention and memory.
What This Means for You
-Chew sugar-free gum in moderation when you are stressed, but because too much gum chewing can worsen temporomandibular joint disorders, be mindful about it.
-Keep up with needed dental treatments so you can chew nutrient-dense foods like meat, fruits and vegetables that help your food digest properly and absorb nutrients. A healthy set of teeth prevents nutritional deficiencies like B vitamins that prevent cognitive decline and dementia.
-Replace lost teeth with removable partial dentures, implant supported dentures, or dental implants maintain healthy mastication and prevent cognitive decline.
Healthy Smile, Healthy Mind
When it comes to your oral health and your mental acuity, keeping your teeth and gums healthy is a top priority. Replacing lost teeth with prosthetics so you can maintain chewing is your next best option. Twice yearly dental exams with oral cancer screenings, gum and jawbone density checkups, and checking on any current prosthetics to make sure they are functioning properly all go a long way to saving your smile and the risk of dementia.