Our brains house our thoughts, feelings, personalities, and so much more - they define who we are as people. And one of the most distressing aspects of aging is the potential for losing cognitive capabilities. We do everything possible to stay sharp as the years pass, from gingko biloba supplements to sudoku puzzles, but what if we should be looking to our teeth as a source of mental acuity? That’s right - studies are suggesting that great oral health may help keep our minds clear.

Cognitive health is the most recent systemic component to be associated with oral health. While no definitive studies have emerged, and more research is needed before we know exactly why these associations exist, it’s always a good idea to be proactive. If healthy teeth may support a healthy brain, that’s all the more reason to care for your smile today. Keep reading for some background information on these studies, and pick up some tips for keeping your oral health in great shape even as you age.

Why Healthy Teeth Matter to Your Mind


The new study, published April 1 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, was actually an evaluation of a collection of studies published over the last 25 years. Some found that oral health components (number of teeth, number of cavities, presence of gum disease) were likely to be present alongside dementia or some type of mental decline. Others did not show an association, so findings were somewhat conflicting. But the researchers stated that “clinical evidence suggests that the frequency of oral health problems increases significantly in cognitively impaired older people, particularly those with dementia.” There just isn’t enough evidence to form a conclusive association.

Some experts believe that the potential link could be tied to the shared inflammatory response that gum disease can trigger in different areas of the body. Others believe that it’s due to apraxia, a condition that can accompany dementia. This causes individuals to forget previous learned tasks, like brushing one’s teeth. This can lead to a decline in oral health following dementia, rather than the other way around. Potential consequences of poor oral health like poor nutrition, diabetes, and heart disease also share some cognitive associations, so it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Oral Health Concerns for Seniors

No matter what these studies mean, they motivate our brushing and flossing more than ever. Seniors have so many things on their minds, and healthcare becomes more complicated as we age. If you’re struggling to brush, floss, or keep up with your dental exams, let us know and we’ll find a way to help.

As we age, it’s important to keep the following dental care priorities in mind:

  • Be conscious of dry mouth - This condition reduces the amount of saliva in your mouth, leading to a dangerous environment for your enamel and your gums. It can be caused by many different medications or occur as you grow older. Be sure to let us know if your mouth is feeling dry, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. There are medicated mouthwashes that can also help keep your mouth from drying out.

  • Find dental products that accommodate your needs - If you have limited hand movement or arthritis, special brushing and flossing products will help you keep your teeth cleaned. You shouldn’t have to strain to reach different areas of your mouth, or experience pain during oral hygiene.
  • Stay vigilant - If you notice anything in your mouth changing, get in touch with your dentist right away. Catching a cavity or gingivitis early on is the best course of action.
  • Communicate with your dentist - Find a dentist you love who makes you feel comfortable in the office, and tell them if you’re ever uncertain about how to approach your oral health.

Dr. Kim Dr. Kim

Dr. Kim Okamura

I'm Dr. Kim Okamura and this blog is a product of my love of dentistry. I dedicate it to all the patients I have served so that they may better understand my craft. The information here will give you and others the power to maintain and protect one of your most priceless gifts ... your SMILE.