We all know that brushing our teeth, flossing regularly, and scheduling regular check-ups with the dentist are important parts of maintaining good oral hygiene. Everyone wants to avoid cavities and root canals. However, taking care of your mouth is crucial to protecting more than just your teeth and gums. Protect yourself and your loved ones by knowing the facts about how the health of your mouth, teeth and gums can affect your general health.
According to a 2015 oral health survey across US households, 97% of adults value oral health and agree that regular dental visits keep them healthy. However, only 37% actually visited the dentist in the past year.
WHAT’S THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ORAL HEALTH AND OVERALL HEALTH?
The mouth, like most areas of the body, is home to lots of bacteria. While most of the bacteria is harmless, there are harmful bacteria lurking that must be kept at bay. According to Dr. Michelle Crews of Uptown Dental, good oral care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. When good oral care is neglected, harmful bacteria multiply and breach healthy teeth and gums, causing infections, tooth decay and gum disease.
Keep in mind that a moist mouth is a healthy mouth. Certain medications, whether over the counter or prescription, often reduce saliva flow that leads to dry mouth. Saliva keeps oral bacteria in check by ridding the mouth of food and neutralizing acids. If you take decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics or antidepressants, drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your mouth moist.
Inflammation of any kind in the body can lead to disease. Growing evidence shows that gum disease and other inflammatory diseases of the mouth are strongly linked to the incidence of systemic diseases that affect the entire body rather than a single organ or body part. According to the Mayo Clinic, oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, might play a role in some diseases.
BEWARE OF CONDITIONS THAT MAY ALSO HAVE IMPACTS ON YOUR ORAL HEALTH
Numerous health conditions may have negative impacts on oral health, including these clinical conditions:
Osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle, might be linked with jaw bone and tooth loss. Tooth loss can occur when the bone of the jaw becomes less dense. Women with osteoporosis are three times more likely to have tooth loss than those with normal bone density. Signs of osteoporosis include loose teeth, gums detaching from the teeth and receding gums.
- ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
A 2013 study found that people with poor oral hygiene or gum disease could be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared with those who have healthy teeth. Additionally, worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia progresses because providing oral care becomes more difficult as the patient and caregiver have other health challenges.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that reduces the body’s resistance to infection, putting gums and teeth at risk. Tooth loss and gum disease appear more frequently and severely among people who have diabetes. People who suffer from diabetes and gum disease have trouble controlling their blood glucose levels. Good oral hygiene and regular dental visits can improve blood sugar control and health.
- OTHER HEALTH-RELATED CONDITIONS
Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, head and neck cancers, and bacterial pneumonia.
Always inform your dentist of any medications you are taking or if you have had any changes in your overall health, especially the development of a chronic condition like diabetes.
POOR ORAL HEALTH HAS BEEN LINKED TO OTHER HEALTH CONDITIONS
Poor oral health may contribute to various diseases or simply be associated with these conditions, including:
Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart, the endocardium. Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through the bloodstream and attach themselves to damaged areas in the heart.
- CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
Research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke may be linked to inflammation and infection caused by harmful bacteria in the mouth.
- BIRTH OUTCOMES
Gum disease has been linked to premature births and low birth weight. Dental care is important before and during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and have not seen the dentist recently, schedule an appointment for a check-up, and be sure to let your dentist know you are pregnant. Dr. Michelle Crews states, “Gingivitis is so common among pregnant women that some dental plans have started offering an additional cleaning for pregnant women. Patients should check to see if their policy has this feature.”
HOW TO MAINTAIN GOOD ORAL HEALTH
To protect your oral health, practice good oral hygiene every day.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks.
- Avoid sugary beverages and sticky candy.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are flattened or frayed. Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
- Avoid tobacco use.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that infants visit a dentist when teeth begin to show or by six months of age, whichever comes first.
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