The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health
Do you think looking after your oral health means regular brushing and flossing with an occasional visit to the dentist thrown in for good measure? Well, for the most part, that’s on point, but what if we told you there is a definite connection between your mouth and body health?
Would you pay more attention to your oral health if you knew that something as innocent as a cavity was linked to the health of your heart and even your brain? Currently, approximately 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 suffer from periodontal disease, which not only causes tooth decay and tooth loss, but it also affects vital organs like our lungs and heart.
Mouth and Body Health
Neglecting your oral health doesn’t only mean bad breath, cavities, and decaying teeth. It can also result in periodontitis or gum disease. This a dangerous bacterial infection that causes your gums to bleed and recede, which in turn allows the bacteria in your mouth to get into your bloodstream. It is this bacteria that can cause serious, and sometimes fatal, health issues down the line.
It is hard to believe that gum disease can lead to a heart attack, but studies show this is the case. When the bacteria from your mouth gets into your vascular system, it affects your blood vessels, arteries, heart, and more. Bacteria along with cholesterol, fat, and other not-so-good-for-you substances cling to the walls of your arteries. After some time, those sticky passengers start to harden. This causes the wall of the artery they’re clinging to to also harden. This process, known as atherosclerosis, impacts the blood flow to your whole body. The heart has to work harder to pump blood to each cell. This extra work can lead to serious illness and even heart attack.
Arteries are the pathways our bodies use to transport blood away from the heart to the whole body. And as atherosclerosis is a buildup of bacteria, fats, and cholesterol in your arteries—the body’s blood-delivering superhighways—the risk of a piece of that hardened bacteria and fat breaking off and moving to a smaller yet vital part of the superhighway is high. When a blockage occurs in an artery supplying the brain with oxygen-rich blood, this is called a stroke. Strokes are serious, life-altering, life-threatening events. But the brain isn’t the only organ at risk because of bacteria that can be found in the mouth.
When mouth bacteria gets into the lungs, it can lead to acute bronchitis, pneumonia, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In cases where these respiratory conditions already exist, this bacteria can make the illness worse.
The bacteria caused by periodontal disease affects how the body uses insulin and converts sugar into energy. The result is higher blood sugar levels and an increase in blood pressure. For those already genetically susceptible to insulin-resistance, the addition of harmful bacteria could be the tipping point into type 2 diabetes.
Periodontitis is also linked to osteoporosis because it contributes to bone loss in the mouth, as well as in the wrists, back, and hips.
As mentioned, mouth bacteria that gets into your bloodstream can contribute to a stroke. But did you know it can also lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? After being exposed to the bacteria on an ongoing basis, the nerve cells die, leading to memory loss associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
There is a direct link with gum disease and pregnancy complications as a result of infection traveling to the fetus. Complications can include premature births as well as low birth weights. Studies also show that poor oral health can lead to fertility issues.
Poor oral hygiene is also connected to various cancers including pancreatic, kidney, and oropharyngeal or throat cancer.
How to Maintain Good Oral Health
Our mouths are a gateway to the rest of our body, which is why maintaining a good oral health routine is essential. With years of experience, Dr. Onemany at Cardinal Dental Group in Dayton, Texas has an excellent understanding of the mouth-body health connection. According to her, maintaining healthy teeth and gums isn’t difficult, but it does take time and commitment.
Tips for Maintaining Good Oral Health
- Brush your teeth twice a day, at night before you go to bed and in the morning, preferably after breakfast.
- It is essential to spit toothpaste out; however, the experts agree that you shouldn’t rinse.
- Do not use a toothbrush with hard bristles as this will damage your gums and make them susceptible to bleeding and infection.
- If possible, invest in an electric toothbrush.
- Make sure you brush for the correct amount of time with small, circular movements. Do not brush too hard.
- It is essential to floss once a day to get rid of food particles and debris. If you have bridges, make sure you clean underneath those too.
- Reduce the intake of sugary foods and drinks.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months. If you have had an infection, you should replace it immediately to prevent any kind of reinfection.
- Make sure you visit your dentist regularly for routine cleaning and checkups. This way you can catch any potential problems early on.
- Do not ignore aches, sensitive teeth, or inflamed gums. Unlike the rest of our body that can heal with time, mouth and gum problems will not get better on their own and could be signs of something far more severe.
For some of us, ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to your mouth and overall health, this is definitely not the case. The condition of your teeth and gums have a significant impact on the rest of your body, which is why you need to take your oral health very seriously. Schedule your appointment with Dr. Onemany or Dr. Seaberg today.