I hate going to the dentist! Luckily, I have a dentist and hygienist who don’t take offense to that. As much as I dislike the process of getting my teeth cleaned, I know how important it is, not just for our oral health but for our overall health as well. Our dental health may impact our wellness in more ways than we realize.
Did you know that poor oral health has been linked to endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of heart chambers or valves), cardiovascular disease, pregnancy and birth complications, and pneumonia? (1) That’s kinda scary, isn’t it?
What’s the Connection?
The link is — you may have already guessed it — bacteria. According to the American Dental Association, (2)
The mouth is filled with countless bacteria, some linked to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Researchers have found that periodon- titis (the advanced form of periodontal disease that can cause tooth loss) is linked with other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia. Likewise, pregnant women with periodontitis may be at increased risk of delivering preterm and/or low-birth-weight infants.https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Publications/Files/patient_61.ashx
Fortunately for us, our bodies’ normal defenses and good oral hygiene usually keep those nasty little critters at bay. If, however, we don’t take good care of our oral health, we can experience bacterial overgrowth. This can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
When we have advanced gum disease, such as Periodontitis, the bacteria can get into our bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. That’s when it causes the trouble we talked about earlier. In addition to the problems already mentioned, “intense gum inflammation…also affects the bloodstream, and is believed to slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain over a long period of time.” (3)
On the Flip Side
We’ve talked about how our oral health can affect other aspects of our wellness, but what about how some health conditions affect our oral health?
Some conditions that may affect our oral health are:
Diabetes. Because diabetes reduces our resistance to infection, it can cause us to be more likely to have gum disease. This is a two-edged sword, because gum disease makes it harder to keep blood sugar under control.
HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS can cause painful mouth sores (mucosal lesions).
Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis reduces Bone Mineral Density, which means that it can cause us to lose bone in our jaw. It can also cause us to lose teeth. Some of the drugs used to treat Osteoporosis come with their own set of problems.
Alzheimer’s Disease. As Alzheimer’s progresses, oral health declines. (1)
Autoimmune diseases, such as Sjögren’s, that cause dry mouth. Many medications can also cause dry mouth. Not having enough saliva can cause a number of dental problems. If you have issues with this, let your doctor know. There are now mouth rinses specifically to help with this issue. Chewing sugar free gum may also help.
This all sounds pretty scary, but the good news is that taking care of our oral health is pretty simple.
Protecting Our Oral Health
We can protect our oral and overall health with just a few simple actions:
Brush twice daily, for two minutes, using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. (4) I know many people have issues with using fluoride toothpastes, but this is the recommendation from the ADA and CDC. Of course, even if you choose not to use a fluoride toothpaste, brushing removes the debris and bacteria from teeth.
When I had to delay my six-month cleaning visit due to COVID-19, I got a Philips Sonicare toothbrush to make sure I was getting those pearly whites as clean as I possibly could. As I said, I hate having my teeth cleaned. I was afraid delaying my cleaning by four months was going to make it worse. This was actually one of the easiest cleanings I’ve had. (Yay!) I use my electric toothbrush once a day and my manual one the other time, just because my teeth can get sensitive if I’m not careful.
Floss daily to remove plaque between the teeth. You can use regular floss or another type of interdental cleaner.
See your dentist at least yearly. This is recommended even if you don’t have any natural teeth. Remember, oral health doesn’t just apply to teeth – it’s also the health of your gums and other structures of the mouth.
Don’t use tobacco products. These can increase your chances of developing issues with your teeth and gums. They can also increase your risk of developing oral cancers.
Eat a balanced diet, and limit snacks. This can reduce the chances of developing tooth decay and gum disease.
Taking care of our teeth isn’t just about keeping them looking good. Good oral health is vital to our overall wellbeing. I don’t know about you, but knowing what a difference those few minutes of brushing and flossing each day makes, encourages me to be diligent with it.
Did you know about the connection between our oral health and our overall wellness? How’s your relationship with your dentist? Please share!
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