Chewing improves our cognitive function

In a previous post on oral health, maintaining a healthy mouth and teeth strongly influences chewing performance. Our mouths have so many neural connections. People with dementia who may experience reduced muscle function and appetite found chewing difficult. The changes in sensory factors such as the sense of smell and taste of food, together with the neuronal damage and brain shrinkage in dementia, affect the neural pathways that correspond to chewing. Chewing food is not just about the intake of food nutrients; it is also an ‘exercise’ for the brain to receive information. The transfer of messages via the brainstem to the hippocampus (where short term memory is stored) is the part of the brain that mainly deals with spatial memory processing and encoding of information. Chewing also stimulates the saliva to help avoid an imbalance of our oral flora that is sometimes found in diseases such as schizophrenia. Chewing also increases metabolic brain neural activity, which positively influences the brain blood flow and enhances cognitive ability. 

Research has found that fewer chewing opportunities can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus. The inability to chew became less controlled in memory pathways and the reduced formation of new cells in the hippocampus. The creation of new cells which includes specialised proteins is necessary to stimulate nerve growth for nerve connection plasticity and the development of the central nervous system. So, when there is a loss of teeth, a person may most likely experience a higher degree of damage in their working memory. A reduced working memory impacts on nerve connections in the prefrontal cortex (brain area just behind the skin of forehead) which controls our voluntary (e.g: catching a ball) and involuntary (eg: remembering how to brush our teeth) decision making processes.

To find out more on how KOPWA has services to ensure residents and clients receive adequate types of nutritional and stimulating food, contact us