Brushing your teeth at least once a day is a good idea for many reasons, but a new study reveals one that you may not have guessed: Regular brushing may shrink your risk of developing dementia, Reuters reports. Researchers followed thousands of elderly people for 18 years, and found that those who said they did not brush daily were up to 65% more likely to end up with dementia. Why? It’s possible that gum-disease bacteria can cause brain damage, notes the study’s author, who points to a separate study that found that the brains of those with Alzheimer’s had more of said bacteria in them.
The bacteria can also spur inflammation, which has been tied to other health issues, like heart disease and diabetes. However, the study wasn’t perfect—the researchers didn’t do any actual dental exams, and other factors like malnutrition could have led to both tooth loss and an increased risk of dementia. Says one dementia expert, “I would be reluctant to draw the conclusion that brushing your teeth would definitely prevent you from getting Alzheimer’s disease.”