Three days into Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, two new studies have proven that good dental hygiene can do more than just give you a pretty smile and freshen your breath. Turns out it could probably save your life.

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An Alzheimer’s study earlier this year discovered that the bacteria causing gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain where the enzymes they excrete can destroy the nerve cells in the brain, leading to the deadly disease. However, a new study from the University of Bergen is the first to identify DNA evidence of it doing so. In the study of 53 people with the condition, 96 percent tested positive for the enzyme.

“We discovered DNA-based proof that the bacteria causing gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain,” says researcher Piotr Mydel at Broegelmanns Research Laboratory, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen.

But Mydel does state that it isn’t the bacteria alone which can cause Alzheimer’s, but rather that the presence of these bacteria increases the risk for developing the disease considerably and are also implicated in a speedier evolution of the disease. Thanks to the findings from the study, Mydel says new medications could be produced which would postpone the development of Alzheimer’s, which they are planning to test later this year.

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Alzheimer’s is one of the more poorly understood diseases. Scientists believe that for a majority of people, Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors which affect the brain over time, however, the exact causes aren’t yet fully understood. What is known and agreed upon is that it is associated with brain proteins which fail to function normally, disrupting neurons in the brain and unleashing toxic radicals. When that happens, it causes damage to those neurons which lose connection to one another and eventually die.

Mydel says that it is important, if you have established gingivitis and have Alzheimer´s in your family, to go to your dentist regularly and clean your teeth properly.

Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease which affects nearly 44 million people around the globe and is most common in Western Europe. According to the BrightFocus Foundation, someone develops dementia every three seconds. Early signs of the disease may be short-term memory loss, and as the disease progresses, a person with Alzheimer’s disease will develop severe memory impairment and lose the ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Another study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association this month found common oral pathogens in 79 percent of cerebral blood clots samples of 75 stroke patients. Previous studies by the team at Tampere University in Finland found the same sort of bacteria in patients who’ve suffered heart attackscoronary stenosescerebral aneurysms and venous or arterial thrombosis.

Turns out your teeth are pretty important, so take care of them.