Impact of Poor Oral Health on Brain Function
Fri, December 3, 2021

Impact of Poor Oral Health on Brain Function

Researchers found a connection between poor oral health and its effects on our brain / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Brushing the teeth is one of the basic parts of everyday routine, although there are some who are guilty of not doing so regularly. Aside from a clean mouth and fresh breath, proper oral health can also provide information about a person's overall well-being. Having a bad breath should be the least of your concerns as researchers found that poor oral health is linked to decreased quality of life and increased risk of other serious conditions.

Poor oral health

Oral disease affects 3.9 billion worldwide, with tooth decay being the most prevalent condition affecting 44 percent of the global population. According to the FDI World Dental Federation, up to 90 percent of schoolchildren and nearly 100 percent of adults have tooth decay.

Conditions affecting oral health are the fourth most expensive to treat, with expenses for oral healthcare surpassing the investments for cancer or respiratory disease treatment.

While it seems like it isn't a big deal, poor oral hygiene can actually lead to serious consequences—ones that go beyond bad breath. Oral diseases such as tooth loss, oral cancer, gum disease, and tooth decay are among the physical conditions that manifest with bad practice (unhealthy diets, tobacco use, harmful alcohol consumption, and poor oral hygiene).



The FDI adds that these diseases have been associated with significant pain and anxiety and affect every aspect of life. Disfigurement, acute and chronic infections, as well as eating and sleeping disruptions are also possible outcomes of oral diseases.

A 2010 article in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology concluded that a person is 20 percent more likely to have heart disease due to gum disease. This is supported by a 2014 study, which found a link between the occurrence of stroke with gum disease and tooth decay. But there was a need for more research to solidify these findings.

Now, researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey looked into another area: the association of poor oral hygiene with cognitive decline and the effects of perceived stress and social support on dry mouth.

The two studies

The researchers focused on older Chinese Americans, interviewing 2,700 participants aged 60 and older in two separate studies. They found that 47.8 percent of the participants experienced tooth symptoms in the first study while 25.5 percent reported dry mouth in the second study.

Those with tooth symptoms also reported experiencing cognitive decline and episodic memory, which the researchers said are common precursors of dementia, according to a statement on press release aggregator Science Daily. The team added that stress contributes to increased dry mouth symptoms and lead to poorer overall oral health.

Findings also included 18.9 percent of the participants reporting having gum symptoms, which, when combined with the percentage of those who have teeth symptoms, resulted in 15.6 percent of older Chinese Americans reporting gum and teeth symptoms.



"Racial and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of poor oral health," XinQi Dong, director of Rutgers University's Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, said in the statement.

"Minorities have less access to preventive dental care that is further exacerbated by language barriers and low socioeconomic status."

Dong added that the participants in their study were at particular risk for having oral health symptoms because of the lack of dental insurance and irregular visits to their dentists. He also noted the need for action in increasing social support to ease stress and the resulting dry mouth issues that their participants reported.

"These efforts can help preserve older adults' health and well-being and limit cognitive decline," the study author concluded.

Advocating for oral health

Significant they may be, conclusions made from self-reported data pose limitations, Medical News Today warned. But the Rutgers University team believed their findings raise the need for better awareness of health and psychosocial influences on immigrants.

"These studies demonstrate the importance of examining immigrant oral health outcomes later in life to understand the specific type of outcomes of different cultural groups," Dong said. He added that the works also served as calls for action to develop programs that improve oral health as well as dental care services in high-risk communities.

Medical News Today, a web-based outlet for medical news, reported that the team was convinced that providing good oral health to older Chinese Americans should be a primary goal.


According to the results, most of the older Chinese Americans have oral problems / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Co-author Weiyu Mao from the University of Nevada said their findings also demonstrate the significance of research on the link between stress and dry mouth in such a "vulnerable population.” Mao added that while moral support may protect against dry mouth symptoms in relation to stress, the possible support overload could be damaging to oral health outcomes for older Chinese Americans.

"Intervention strategies need to expand beyond the common risk factors, such as health conditions and health behaviors, and account for the psychosocial determinants, including stress and social support, to better promote oral health and reduce oral health disparities in this population," the co-author said.