Want To Avoid Alzheimer's? Protect Your Teeth, Says A Neurologist
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
I'll go ahead and assume you don't think much about your oral health routine, aside from a daily brush and floss. Perhaps you've dabbled in a round of whitening strips or have a teeth-whitening pen stashed in your tote—but when it comes to your overall health and well-being, you might not think twice about those pearly whites.
Well, according to neurologist Dale Bredesen, M.D., author of the New York Times bestselling book The End of Alzheimer's, protecting your oral health is crucial for brain health long term. In fact, as he declares on the mindbodygreen podcast, neglecting your teeth and gums can lead to cognitive decline.
How oral health affects brain health.
Just like your gut, your oral cavity harbors trillions of bacteria; as board-certified pediatric dentist Saci Whitman, DMD, previously wrote for mbg, your oral microbiome is the second most diverse microbiome in our bodies. What's more, your mouth is the gateway to your body and the beginning of your gastrointestinal tract. Studies have even shown that oral bacteria can actually travel toward the gut and change its microbiota1—and we likely don't have to remind you of the gut-brain connection.
"So I recommend everyone check out your oral microbiome," advises Bredesen. (He suggests using a service like MyPerioPath.) "Do you have P. gingivalis, T. denticola, prevotella intermedia, F. nucleatum? These organisms are being found in the brain; they're being found in the plaques of coronary arteries… These things are impacting us systemically2."
For example, one study found that the aforementioned bacteria P. gingivalis, the key pathogen in periodontitis, was identified in the brain of Alzheimer's disease patients3. Another study suggests a possible link between F. nucleatum 4 (another periodontal pathogen) and Alzheimer's disease4. And to zoom out more generally, a 2022 study found that poor periodontal health and tooth loss were associated with an increased risk of both cognitive decline and dementia.
What to do about it.
So how do you protect your oral microbiome (and, in turn, your brain health)? We have a full guide to oral care here, but see below for some highlights:
"I cannot emphasize flossing enough, and I do suggest trying to do it nightly (before brushing) to remove food remnants and unideal bacteria," writes Whitman. "Keep flossing. Much like playing the guitar for the first time or gardening again in the spring, you need to build up 'callused' gingival tissue, and this takes time, so keep at it."
Limit antiseptic mouthwash.
Traditional antiseptic mouthwashes are incredibly antibacterial, which means they sweep away all the bacteria—good and bad—to give you that fresh, minty feeling. And your oral microbiome needs a healthy balance of good bacteria! If you swish frequently for a long period of time, your oral microbiome might suffer down the line (and some experts even say it can lead to bad breath).
That's not to say you can't use antiseptic mouthwash at all (for example, some may need to swish for medical reasons). Just limit your use if you can, and perhaps opt for a non-antiseptic mouthwash that's gentle enough for your oral microbiome. (Find our recommendations here.)
Mind your diet.
"Bad bacteria overgrow when they eat sugar, especially in an acidic environment. Simply cutting back on your intake of sugary and acidic foods will make a big difference," notes Whitman.
Additionally, consuming an array of antioxidant-rich foods can support your oral health, biologic restorative dentist Gerry Curatola, DDS, says on an episode of Clean Beauty School. He recommends getting your fill of vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, and vitamin D3 to strengthen your teeth and gums.
Your mouth is the gateway to your GI tract, so it makes sense that your oral, gut, and brain health are all intertwined. Add oral care to your list of brain-boosting activities, says Bredesen, and consider his other underrated cognitive health tips.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.