Believe it or not, your oral health is one of the most important and viable means of assessing your current health. It is also an accurate predictor of future ailments and diseases. Poor oral hygiene habits such as infrequent brushing, flossing and dental cleanings allow the bacteria that exist in your mouth to wreak havoc. Without the appropriate intervention, these bacteria can eventually cause cavities and periodontitis (gum and bone infection caused by tooth based bacteria). That’s not all. Oral health issues directly impact other parts of your body and have a direct correlation with several maladies. This includes heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, lung ailments such as bacterial pneumonia and inflammation related illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Over time, bad oral health is also shown to impair and delay memory and calculative abilities in seniors. It is also increasingly linked with erectile dysfunction in men. Poor oral health impacts more than yourself as well. In pregnant women it can negatively alter fetal development and overall health. This results in both low baby weight (at birth) and premature birth.
As you can imagine, the parts of your body responsible for chewing, eating and drinking are constantly exposed to bacteria and food particles. Consistent and effective oral health habits ensure that your mouth, teeth and surrounding tissue are kept clean, healthy and free of infection. Your mouth and its internal parts can also be affected by health ailments such as HIV/AIDS and eating disorders. The mouth should therefore be thought of as a gateway to your body’s overall health and wellness. It is imperative to treat it that way.
A growing amount of research shows a strong link between poor oral health and an increased risk of heart disease such as heart attacks. Thanks to infrequent brushing and flossing, bacteria can build up on your teeth over time. This buildup is known as plaque. Untreated plaque can lead to cavities and gum diseases known as gingivitis and periodontitis. Over time this built up plaque can dislodge from your teeth and enter your bloodstream. This same plaque attaches itself to your arterial walls, causing blockages that reduces blood flow to your heart, greatly increasing your risk of heart attacks and other related illnesses. The bacteria within the plaque can also attach to your blood vessels thereby increasing clot formation. This impacts blood pressure and therefore your heart’s workload and exertion levels. Elevated blood pressure is in turn a major risk factor for heart failure, kidney disease and strokes.
A stroke is the sudden loss in brain function caused by the rapid reduction of blood flow to the brain. Major contributors to such blockages are clots. As mentioned above, these clots can be aided by the plaque based bacteria that get dislodged from unhealthy teeth and gums. Clots flow within the blood stream liberally. On occasion, they get lodged within arteries that lead directly to the brain, thereby causing thrombotic strokes and other related complications.
Unfortunately, diabetes and gum disease share a very strong correlation. The existence of one within an individual makes the other condition far more likely. Studies have shown that those with gum disease have a more difficult time regulating and controlling their blood sugar levels. This lack of regulation results in extended periods of time with high blood sugar levels – a direct contributor to diabetic complications.
On the flip side, those with diabetes have compromised immune systems. This makes them more prone to infections like gum disease. The relationship is so strong that periodontitis (gum disease) is often considered a diabetic complication.
Women who suffer from poor oral health put undue risk on themselves and their fetus while pregnant. If left untreated, such women are more likely to deliver pre-term babies or those with low birth weights. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, such babies are more susceptible to developmental complications, asthma, ear infections, birth abnormalities, behavioral issues and higher rates of infant death. Due to the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, pregnant women are more likely than their non pregnant peers to develop gum disease, making their oral health habits increasingly important. Stomach acid from morning sickness can also lead to dental issues as it upsets the natural balance that exists in your mouth.
The bone loss and decreased density that is caused by osteoporosis exacerbates periodontal disease and its effect on bones near your teeth. Regular visits to your dental professionals may help them in identifying and halting any periodontal disease that may impact your osteoporosis over time.
Chronic respiratory ailments and bacterial pneumonia have been shown to worsen due to periodontal disease and poor oral health. This is due to the bacteria that exist within plaque. When plaque is dislodged within the mouth and enters the lungs it makes issues worse by increasing bacterial levels within your breathing organs. This of course affects everything as your breathing is essential to healthy body function on a cellular level.
Rheumatoid arthritis is synonymous with inflammation within the body. Given that gum disease causes your gums and oral tissue to be constantly inflamed, studies have shown that better oral health leads to reduced levels of pain and discomfort for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
Diseases and Conditions that Impact Oral Health
Beyond the health issues mentioned above, there are several health issues that can negatively impact oral health and as a result your overall health. Studies have shown that the body fat levels associated with obesity can increase the rate at which gum disease manifests and worsens. Other health issues such as eating disorders and bulimia that involve vomiting can compromise your oral health due to frequent exposure to the acidity that exists within stomach bile.
As you can see, the regular maintenance of good oral health plays an extremely important role in helping your current and future health overall. Beyond the aesthetics (think clean teeth and good breathe), a healthy mouth ensures you are not putting yourself at risk of other serious health ailments including those mentioned above. Be sure to visit your dentist for regularly scheduled visits and never be afraid to ask questions. Dentists and dental hygienists take great pride in their work and have a tremendous amount of knowledge as it relates to oral and overall health. This means that they essential to helping you optimize your health and longevity.