Not Practicing This Daily Hygiene Habit Can Raise Your Risk for Dementia

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Wake up, brush your teeth, go about your day, brush your teeth, go to bed—OK, most dentists say you should floss every day too, but I don't think that rule gets followed as often. Anywho, standard smile hygiene has been embedded in our brains since our parents handed us our first toothbrushes—my parents even gave me a sand-filled hourglass that would time me so I got the recommended two minutes of brushing in. At the time, I hated the "chore," but now as an adult, I'm reading and writing about the scary health issues associated with poor smile habits all the time, and I'm thankful. 

Gum disease (aka periodontitis, which occurs when a buildup of plaque causes swelling and infections) affects nearly half of the U.S. population, according to the American Dental Association. Not only does it lead to cavities, bad breath and more severe tooth problems, but it's also linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even some cancers. 

Now, a new study, published in Alzheimer's Research & Therapy, is revealing another scary stat: Gum disease could increase the risk of developing dementia by up to 70 percent. 

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Researchers in Taiwan studied 28,000 participants total—9,300 people who had recently been diagnosed with chronic periodontitis were compared with 18,700 other participants, who did not suffer from gum disease. After 10 years, 115 of the participants with gum disease developed Alzheimer's, compared to 208 participants who did not have gum disease and did not have the condition.

The reason for this? Researchers believe that inflammation caused by years (10 or more) of gum disease could eventually damage the brain. The study shows participants with this long-term gum disease were 70 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's during their lifetimes. However, the authors (Chang-Kai Chen and colleagues from the Chung Shan Medical University in Taichung) noted that further study is "required to verify this hypothesis."

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James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer's Society, told The Times: "Although at first it does not seem obvious that gum disease could be linked to brain health, it is plausible that an immune reaction triggered by the gum disease could make its way to the brain and contribute to the development of dementia." 

Fort Washington, PA, prosthodontist, Thomas Balshi, DDS, says, "It has long been known that periodontal disease contributes to chronic inflammation, which leads to coronary artery disease, thereby diminishing oxygen flow to vital organs in the body, including the brain. Professional hygiene care is essential because some patients have a predilection to periodontal disease and require deep scaling to keep gums healthy. Patients who suffer from chronic bleeding gums should been seen by a hygienist every three months."