BY DAVID BUICE
Most of us realize the importance of brushing and flossing our teeth daily. However, what you may not appreciate is just how essential dental hygiene is to your overall health. In reality, a synergistic relationship exists between your teeth and gums and the organs throughout your body. What happens in your mouth can adversely affect the proper functioning of other organs beyond your mouth, while at the same time, things occurring in other parts of your body can negatively impact your teeth and gums.
Bacteria by the Millions
Much of the story regarding dental hygiene and your overall health begins with the approximately six million bacteria teeming in your mouth. Most are relatively harmless, but not all are. Without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that lead to tooth decay and gum disease. And numerous studies have suggested the bacteria and inflammation associated with periodontitis (severe gum disease) may play a role in spreading disease via the bloodstream to other parts of your body.
At the same time, diseases such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS can lower the body’s resistance to infection and make oral health problems more severe.
Finally, further complicating the situation, certain medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants reduce saliva flow. Saliva plays an essential role in protecting you from microbes that multiply and can lead to disease in your mouth and elsewhere in your body.
Conditions Beyond the Mouth Linked to Oral Health
Poor oral hygiene may contribute to several health issues, including the following.
- Endocarditis – This is an infection that typically occurs when bacteria spread into your bloodstream from other parts of your body, including the mouth, and attaches to the endocardium, the smooth membrane that lines in the inside chambers of the heart and forms the surface of the heart valves.
- Atherosclerosis – Although the connection is not fully understood, some studies suggest clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections caused by oral bacteria.
- Pregnancy and birth conditions – Periodontitis (gum disease) has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
- Pneumonia – Certain bacteria in the mouth can be drawn into the lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory issues.
Bodily Conditions Affecting Oral Health
These conditions, among others, may negatively affect your oral health.
- Diabetes – By reducing the body’s resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. And in a vicious cycle, periodontal disease can make your blood sugar difficult to control, making your diabetes worse.
- HIV/AIDS – Oral problems, such as mucosal lesions, are common in HIV/AIDS patients.
- Osteoporosis – Bones easily can fracture when they become fragile due to osteoporosis, and this condition may be connected to tooth and jawbone loss.
Given the connection between oral health and other systemic health issues, preventive oral health care is essential. You should brush twice and floss once daily, have regular dental checkups and cleanings, and tell your dentist about any changes in your overall health.