It is very important to take good care of your teeth and gums, but for more reasons than you might think. Because the mouth is the “gateway to the body,” bacteria from the teeth and gums can affect your overall health in more ways than one.
To keep the mouth and teeth healthy, it is recommended to brush and floss every day – at least two times a day. Dentists also recommend avoiding certain cavity-producing foods, such as sugary treats, and avoiding tobacco products. You should also see your dentist or oral health professional regularly (recommended every six months).
But why? Well, obviously, poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay or cavities. Despite what you might think, cavities do not only occur in children. Adults can get them too. The teeth are covered in a hard outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria (dental plaque) builds up on the teeth which produces a bacteria that can eat a hole in this enamel if not removed. Brushing and flossing can help protect your teeth from decay, but once a cavity has formed, a dentist has to fix it.
Gum disease is another consequence of poor dental hygiene. When plaque builds up along and under the gum line, infections can occur that harm the gums and the bone that hold the teeth in place. The most severe form of gum disease is known as periodontal disease. In this case, infection has become so severe that bone deterioration can occur, leading to tooth loss.
Bad dental health can be also particularly bad for your social life as well. Halitosis – bad breath – is caused by small food particles that are wedged between the teeth that collect bacteria and emit chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide. This is the same compound which gives rotten eggs their characteristic smell.
Good dental health, though, is not just important for your teeth, gums, and breath. The bacteria that originate in the mouth can travel throughout the body and cause a host of health problems that you may not be aware of.
1. Heart Disease/Stroke Risk
People with periodontal disease are two times more likely to develop heart disease and arterial narrowing as a result of bacteria and plaque entering the bloodstream through the gums. The bacteria contains a clot-promoting protein that can clog arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack. In addition, if high levels of disease-causing bacteria from the mouth clog the carotid artery – the blood vessel that delivers blood to the brain and head – it could increase the risk of having a stroke.
2. Increased Risk of Dementia
Tooth loss due to poor dental health is also a risk factor for memory loss and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. One study, published in Behavioral and Brain Functions, found that infections in the gums release inflammatory substances which in turn increase brain inflammation that can cause neuronal (brain cell) death.
3. Respiratory Problems
Bacteria from periodontal disease can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs where it can aggravate respiratory systems, especially in patients who already have respiratory problems. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology uncovered a link between gum disease and an increased risk of pneumonia and acute bronchitis. “By working with your dentist or periodontist, you may actually be able to prevent or diminish the progression of harmful diseases such as pneumonia or COPD,” says Donald S. Clem, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. ”
95% of US adults with diabetes also have periodontal disease and 1/3 have such advanced disease that has lead to tooth loss. This is likely because people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections.
The link between gum disease and diabetes appears to be a two-way street. In addition to having a higher risk gum disease due to diabetes, periodontal disease may also make it more difficult to control blood sugar, putting the patient at risk for even more diabetic complications.