Oral Health and Alzheimer’s
Like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) itself, gum damage, tooth loss, and other dental problems are often labeled as “normal” aspects of aging. But also like AD, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Recent research is telling us that poor oral health can be prevented, and prevention should absolutely be an important focus for every aging person on this planet. Not only do good dental habits help preserve oral function as well as image – in other words, quality of life – they also help maintain cognitive function.
It makes sense that oral health plays such an important role in our overall well-being. Think about it: the mouth, throat, and tongue are absolutely vital for speech, as well as chewing, swallowing, and digesting the foods that give us the critical nutrients to sustain life. Also, they are in near-constant contact with the external environment, and their job descriptions include filtering and processing disease-causing microbes and antigens. If they can’t perform all of their job duties correctly, we can’t eat and we’re more susceptible to harmful pathogens. Beyond that, our self-image is affected when we lose our smile, which can lead to social isolation and even contribute to depression– two major risk factors for AD.
There are many reasons poor oral health seems to go hand in hand with aging. Seniors tend to develop diseases, like heart disease, associated with poor oral problems at higher rates. As someone ages, it may simply be more difficult for them to take care of their teeth and gums. Illness or disability may keep them from completing basic oral care tasks and/or getting to a dentist or oral health specialist. Those already suffering from dementia may especially have difficulties in this regard.