New research from the University of California reveals that people who keep their teeth and gums healthy with regular brushing may have a lower risk of developing dementia later in life.


The researchers followed 5,468 adults over the age of 68 from 1992 to 2010 and discovered that those who reported not brushing their teeth daily had up to a 65 percent greater risk of developing dementia than those who brushed three times a day. The majority of the study's participants were well-educated and affluent.


"Not only does the state of your mind predict what kind of oral health habits you practice, it may be that your oral health habits influence whether or not you get dementia," said Annlia Paganini-Hill, lead author of the study which was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


It's thought that gum disease bacteria might get into the brain, causing inflammation and brain damage, she said.


The study is not conclusive, though. The team looked at behavior and dental data, but didn't carry out any dental exams. While ignoring healthy dental habits might be a sign of early susceptibility to dementia, other factors may also be at play.


Head injury and malnutrition are also significant causes of tooth loss in adults, and either of those might increase the dementia risk, noted Amber Watts, who studies dementia at the University of Kansas, but she is not a member of the research team.


"I would be reluctant to draw the conclusion that brushing your teeth would definitely prevent you from getting Alzheimer's disease," she said. 


Related dental health story on MNN: Are dental X-rays really necessary?


Poor dental health habits linked to dementia
Studies have linked gum disease with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes – now a new study links dental health with matters of the mind.