Skipping This Step in the Bathroom Increases Your Dementia Risk

According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people worldwide live with a form of…

According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people worldwide live with a form of dementia, and each year there are almost 10 million new cases. Though there is no cure, we understand the disease more now, from how to pinpoint early signs to the myriad ways to potentially lower your risk. Activities like meditation, enjoying a daily cup of tea, and even something that you could be doing in the bathroom can help. Read on to find out what you should be sure to include in your daily routine to lower your risk of cognitive decline.

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“One thing is clear,” says Greg Grillo, DDS, of Express Dentist. “Oral wellness affects us from head to toe and through all stages of life.” Studies have shown that poor oral health is linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), and “in pregnant women, poor oral health has also been associated with premature births and low birth weight.” Not to mention, the health of the mouth and throat: Poor oral health can lead to diseases such as gum disease and oral and pharyngeal cancers.

Making good oral health part of your routine includes brushing your teeth and making regular visits to the dentist (although the ODPHP reports that only about 44.5 percent of people over two years old have had a dental visit over the last year). Another key component of oral health, one that has been shown to decrease your risk of dementia if practiced regularly, is to routinely floss your teeth.

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When it comes to the ramifications of poor oral hygiene, it makes sense that failing to brush and floss could be one of the causes of bad breath, as well as cavities and gum disease. But neglecting your teeth can also affect the brain, and flossing is an important part of good oral health. “With an established link between gum disease and other systemic conditions like diabetes and stroke, it’s not surprising that we continue to discover more complex interactions involving the mouth,” says Grillo.

“The bacteria that cause gingivitis also may be connected to Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Harvard Health. Previously, it was known that gum disease (gingivitis) was also a risk factor for heart disease. But a study showed that the kind of bacteria that leads to gingivitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis, can actually travel from the mouth, where it originates as a result of plaque buildup, to the brain. “Once in the brain, the bacteria release enzymes called gingipains that can destroy nerve cells, which in turn can lead to memory loss and eventually Alzheimer’s.” Scientists found significant levels of gingipain in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients—as well as evidence that “the amount of gingipain tended to rise over time, which suggests there may be a tipping point when dementia symptoms first begin.”

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“Anything we can do to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline deserves attention,” says Grillo, who notes that “about one in six adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth, and Alzheimer’s cases continue to rise in the U.S.”

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Flossing removes plaque—importantly, plaque that can’t be reached or reduced by brushing alone. Plaque is a film that forms in your mouth when oral bacteria combines with “starchy or sugary foods and drinks,” according to Healthline. “These bacteria release acids that break down carbohydrates. If you don’t brush your teeth, the bacteria, acids, and carbohydrates can mix together to form a film of plaque on and around your teeth and gumline.” The bacteria in plaque can cause cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and infection. And, as we now know, that bacteria can travel to the brain, with potentially debilitating effects.

“Brushing only removes plaque from the front and back surfaces of your teeth,” states Healthline, noting that flossing can remove plaque from both your teeth and beneath the gums. “These hard-to-reach spots are where the most destructive microbes live.”

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Flossing your teeth won’t be beneficial if you don’t do it the right way to maximize its benefits. Keep in mind that “picking food out of your teeth” is not the same as flossing with actual flossing tools. The American Dental Association reports that the non-floss items Americans use to remove food from their teeth include safety pins, cutlery, and their own fingernails—methods that are ultimately ineffective and potentially harmful.

Using the recommended 18 inches of floss, gently go between the teeth to dislodge food from around the gums; do not snap the floss in between your teeth, as this could result in mouth pain. And don’t forget to tend to the back of your mouth, even though the teeth and gums may be harder to reach.

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You’ll want to floss first and brush after; once you’ve flossed your teeth and removed and displaced food particles, you’ll be able to finish up the process by brushing away the remaining particles. Remember, the ADA recommends flossing once a day—at least—as part of good oral health habits.

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