What does the health of your mouth have to do with your overall well-being? A lot, as it turns out!
Taking care of your mouth, teeth, and gums is a worthy cause unto itself. Good oral hygiene can help ward off bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, and more. But the benefits of brushing twice a day go even further than that: Researchers have recently discovered that a healthy mouth may help prevent a host of common medical disorders.
The flip side? An unhealthy mouth may increase the risk of serious health conditions such as heart attack, respiratory infections, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between oral health and overall health:
How poor dental care can affect your overall health
If you weren’t already aware, your mouth is teeming with living organisms. Most of the bacteria that surround your teeth and gums are harmless, but some have the potential to cause serious damage.
Without proper oral hygiene, those bacteria can reach harmful levels. In addition, certain medications – such as antihistamines and diuretics – can reduce the flow of saliva, crippling the body’s natural defenses against such bacteria.
When paired with immune-weakening disorders suffered by many older adults, like cancer and malnutrition, it can spell disaster. When they reach an unmanageable level, the bacteria have the ability to cause infection – and not just in your mouth. The harmful effects can be felt throughout your body, causing dozens of different ailments.
Should you be worried? Not necessarily: As long as you practice good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, you can keep those bacteria under control.
What health issues are caused by bad oral health?
Bacteria from the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause infection wherever it goes. The below health issues can occur for any number of other reasons, but bad oral hygiene can aggravate them or even help bring them on:
- Heart Disease: If the gums are inflamed due to the bacteria that causes periodontal disease, that same bacteria can get into the bloodstream causing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
- Respiratory infections: Bacteria in the mouth from infected teeth and swollen gums can travel to the lungs through the bloodstream, causing respiratory infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, and more.
- Diabetes complications: Gum disease can lead to higher than normal blood sugar levels, which in turn make diabetes more difficult to manage.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: According to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, people with gum disease were four times more likely to have Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- Dementia: Research shows that the bacteria from gingivitis can leave the mouth and spread to the nerve channels, affect brain cells, and ultimately lead to dementia.
Oral health and older adults
As a result of growing up without the benefit of community water fluoridation and other fluoride products, many adults today who are aged 65 and older suffer from a variety of oral health conditions.
Other disadvantages such as having a limited income or being disabled or homebound can aggravate the problem. Traditional Medicare does not currently cover dental care, and dentists who make house calls (though the service does exist) are not available in many locations.
Problems such as missing teeth or sore gums and mouth can affect nutrition, as chewing and swallowing may become painful. Because issues such as gum disease and oral cancers are fare more prevalent in the elderly, this is something to remain aware of.
How to protect your oral health
Oral health is something that should be maintained throughout your life. Even though you may feel like you have healthy, strong teeth now, a lack of care can lead to problems down the road. Proper oral hygiene should include the following:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily
- Eat a healthy diet and limit sweet treats
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
- Avoid the use of tobacco products
- Limit enamel-damaging foods, such as carbonated drinks and citrus
Remember: an investment in your oral health is an investment in your overall health. Always call your dentist at the first sign of trouble to avoid any lasting effects!