It's a short journey from the mouth to the brain
You have an organ in your head that weighs about a kilo and a half and has a huge responsibility: regulating all the other organs, relaying information, processing memory and controlling behavior. The brain is an extremely sophisticated system, the functioning of which you can either protect or endanger through your own actions.
Much of our daily activities protect the brain: sleeping, eating, exercise and challenging thinking at work, for example, are good for the brain. Fortunately, many people’s routines also include brushing one’s teeth twice a day and cleaning between the teeth every day. Oral health appears to have a significant impact on brain health.
– Only recently has the connection between dental infections and various brain diseases begun to be understood, says Jenni Seppänen, a dentist at Hammas Mehiläinen.
For example, a Finnish study carried out a couple of years ago revealed that normal dental caries, or tooth decay, had a connection to Alzheimer's disease: in the study, people who had decay or infection of three or more teeth were also more likely to have Alzheimer's disease. However, it is difficult to establish a direct causal relationship between these two — so it is not known for sure which comes first, dental caries or memory disorder.
– More research into the connection between oral health and the brain is really needed, but we are constantly learning more and more, Seppänen says.
Oral infections do not stay in the mouth
It has already been observed in the past that oral diseases are linked to cerebral infarction and cerebral haemorrhages. Oral infections do not just stay in the mouth, as blood circulation carries microbes throughout the body, including the next door neighbour, the brain. A perfectly normal tooth cavity can infect the tip of the tooth root, and from there microbes can spread to the brain.
Another dangerous – and very common – oral infection is periodontitis. It is found in one in three Finns. Periodontitis is often asymptomatic at first, but, as it progresses, it loosens the teeth and can lead to tooth loss.
– Periodontitis pathogens can directly damage the blood vessels in the brain, and the harmful substances they produce can cause infection, Seppänen says.
The mouth even has an effect on memory disorders
If periodontitis progresses to the point that the teeth become loose and start to detach, the effect on the brain may be even greater. Studies have shown that tooth loss can contribute to the development of memory disorders. Chewing activates the brain. When teeth are lost or removed, some of the brain-activating effect of chewing is lost.
According to Seppänen, dental care is very important especially for those with a memory disorder, although it can be difficult for an elderly person who is not feeling well to take care of their teeth. Residential care homes also need more training on oral health.
– People live long lives and many have their own teeth longer than before. More investment is needed in oral care, Seppänen says.
It is, of course, a good idea to make a habit of good dental care at an early age, as the effects gradually accumulate in the body. If you have a family history of memory disorders, you should take especially good care of your teeth and gums.
Periodontitis makes you think about your brain
Seppänen’s customers are not often aware of the impact of oral health on general health. The topic comes up if, for example, periodontitis is found in the mouth.
– Usually, periodontitis and its far-reaching effect on health come as a surprise and a shock to people, as the disease is often asymptomatic. Few people who come in for a basic dental check-up expect such a diagnosis, Seppänen says.
Seppänen and the patient discuss the effects of periodontitis not only on brain health but also the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, among other things. It is easier to commit to good home care when you know the risks.
Seppänen is pleased that the health boom that has existed for some years has made people a little more interested in oral health as well.
– It seems that people are starting to realise how important oral health is for overall health, Seppänen says.
Oral bacteria has been found to be linked to the following:
- Cerebral infarction.
- The formation and rupture of a brain aneurysm. Rupture refers to subarachnoid haemorrhage, a life-threatening type of bleeding in the brain.
- Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders.
- Low-level inflammation of the whole body, which contributes to, for example, the development of brain aneurysms.
Dental and oral health Digital Clinic is also open every day of the year.