If you’ve got all your teeth, there’s a good chance you have a memory like an elephant. It seems like an odd connection, but according to recent studies with elderly subjects, having more natural teeth has a significant correlation with better memory.
Good Teeth, Good Brain
The study was conducted on a group of seniors, aged 55 and up, with factors like variations in age taken into account. It turned out that those with most of their own natural teeth had on average a 4% better memory than those without. According to the researchers, the number of natural teeth accounted for:
- 20% variance in episodic recall (remembering events)
- 20% variance in episodic recognition (recognizing an object seen in the past)
- 14% variance in semantic memory (memory of meanings and understanding)
This connection is not limited to humans. Similar studies performed on rats who had their teeth pulled showed increased memory and learning problems. The link isn’t fully understood, yet there’s undeniably some sort of relationship between natural teeth and cognitive abilities.
Some interesting suggestions have been put forward in order to explain the link. One involves the sensory impulses from our teeth. Less teeth means reduced input, which could lead to a decrease in the impulses sent to the hippocampus, the region of the brain that forms and retrieves memories. (Check out the movie Memento to see dire effects of hippocampus damage).
As with all experiments, there’s the question of correlation versus causation. How one chews food could be a complicating factor. Chewing increases blood flow to the brain, thus increases impulses, and could aid in memory recall. Also, people lacking teeth or wearing dentures may avoid specific foods, limiting nutrition ingestion.
That being said, other studies have shown fascinating connections between oral health and the brain. In a study at the University of California, teeth cleanliness was compared to dementia. Those who brushed only once a day were 65% more likely to develop dementia versus those who brushed 3 times.
Another found that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s on average had more gum disease-related bacteria in their brains. Whether these bacteria directly cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, though, seems unlikely. On the other hand, the hippocampus—which receives impulses from the mouth—is usual the first region of the brain to be affected by this form of dementia.
Dental health once again shows itself to be integral to overall health. Scientists will continue to explore the fascinating connection between teeth and memory. Until that time, maintain good oral health. If you want to be able to compete on Jeopardy when you’re in your later years, drink lots of milk, brush and floss regularly, and don’t knock out those precious natural teeth!
Dr. Potts is a gentle, caring dentist who uses the most advanced materials and procedures available. He practices comfortable, health-centered dentistry, with a strong emphasis on getting to know each patient. In addition to his technical proficiency, Dr. Potts is a careful listener. He makes sure to understand what you want and will explain beforehand what treatment is best for your individual needs, along with all options available to you. Check out our Twitter, Facebook page, and website.