Ever picture your toothbrush as a safeguard against heart disease? How about as a shield against respiratory illness? When you practice good oral hygiene and include proper brushing as part of a preventive oral health plan, that’s essentially what your toothbrush can become.
We know they seem totally unrelated. After all, our teeth are primarily used for just cutting and chewing our food. But they also start the whole digestive process and, along with your gums, are the main entrance into your body. Poor oral health can have a negative impact on your overall health. Your dentist can play a supportive role in helping you stay healthy.
What are the Signs of Poor Oral Hygiene?
Your body can develop some serious health conditions silently, with no overt symptoms alerting you to any disease. But an unhealthy mouth isn’t shy about letting you know there’s a problem. If you develop any of the following signs of poor oral health, you should see your dentist immediately.
- Mouth sores
- Bleeding gums
- Loose or lost teeth
- Jaw pain
- Recurring or persistent bad breath
Your dentist can diagnose specific dental issues and, if there is a further concern, refer you to another healthcare professional to evaluate related health issues. At your appointment, we can also perform advanced screening for issues such as oral cancer (with the helpful VELscope oral assessment system), LASER decay detection, sealants, oxygen/ozone therapy, and more.
Good Oral Health: An Investment in Overall Health
Your mouth can be a window to the overall health of your body. Good dental care can prevent bacteria from the mouth getting into your bloodstream, which would otherwise cause infection and inflammation. Additionally, regular visits to your dentist as part of a good oral health plan could help in the discovery of systemic diseases and prevent your mouth from forming harmful periodontal bacteria.
What Diseases are Linked to Oral Health?
Some evidence suggests that oral bacteria may be linked to heart disease and stroke. Gum disease has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease because there’s a higher chance that bacterial infection from the mouth will enter your bloodstream and harm your heart valves. When your body reacts to bacteria entering the bloodstream, blood vessels may become inflamed. This can lead to tiny blood clots and stroke.
The association between periodontal disease and diabetes has long been noted. Diabetes reduces the body’s ability to resist infection. Gum disease appears to be more common in people who have diabetes and so gum disease can serve as an indicator of systemic issues. Additionally, poorly managed blood-sugar levels from mouth bacteria can cause increased plaque. Good oral hygiene can help ensure that patients with diabetes maintain healthy gums.
Endocarditis is an inflammation of your heart’s inner lining caused by bacteria. In rare instances, bacteria from the mouth, caused by tooth plaque and gingivitis, will lead to endocarditis. Inflamed or bleeding gums have been associated with the development of endocarditis. Maintain healthy oral habits to ensure healthy gums.
Oral and throat cancer can silently develop for quite some time before any major symptoms appear. Your dentist, however, can examine your teeth, gums, tonsils, and inner cheeks for signs of oral or throat cancer and refer you to a specialist for further examination of your overall health.
Pregnancy changes your hormone levels and so it can exaggerate some dental problems, such as gum disease and tooth decay. Higher levels of progesterone and estrogen can temporarily loosen the tissues and bones that keep teeth in place. These symptoms may alert your dentist to the possibility that you are pregnant. (If you know you are pregnant, inform your dentist in case certain treatments should be postponed.)
Patients with kidney disease are predisposed to tooth decay and mouth sores. If you’re showing signs of periodontitis, it could be a warning of a systemic illness such as kidney disease. Kidney disease also can cause halitosis, or chronic bad breath, because the kidneys fail to remove urea from the blood. This forms ammonia, which has a very unpleasant smell. Regular dental visits will help you maintain good oral health and could help detect the possibility of serious medical concerns. (If you have kidney disease, inform your dentist in case certain treatments should be postponed.)
Since your mouth is the “gateway’ to your respiratory tracts, bacteria caused by poor oral health can lead to respiratory infections. Daily brushing and flossing keep bacteria under control. Good oral health can help prevent the bacteria in your mouth from being pulled into your lungs, which causes pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
An NYU study offers evidence that gum inflammation may contribute to brain inflammation, neurodegeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease. Older adults with periodontitis had a higher risk of dementia than those without gum disease. Regular dental checkups could signal the presence of or increase in periodontitis. Your dentist could refer you to a specialist for further examination.
Your Overall Health Depends on Oral Health
Good oral health is so important to your well-being, yet it’s often ignored. Protect yourself by putting into practice this knowledge about the association between oral health and overall health. Maintain your healthy dental habits and visit your dentist regularly.