Why the Benefits of Good Oral Health Extend Beyond a Great Smile
Whilst having a beautiful smile is certainly an excellent reason to take care of your teeth, your oral health isn’t just about looks. The implications poor dental situations can have on your general health are often overlooked. If you’re not caring for your gums and teeth, you could soon be dealing with a range of health issues.
Here’s a breakdown of all the reasons why good oral health protects more than just your teeth!
Your mouth is filled with millions of small single-celled organisms that live on tooth surfaces and hard-to-reach areas like pits and fissures, even the bumps and ridges of your tongue. These bacteria are nourished by the sugars and carbohydrates you consume as part of your diet.
Whilst bacteria have a bad reputation, the bacteria in your mouth aren’t necessarily harmful.
Most of the bacteria that live in the oral cavity are harmless: Out of the 500 to 700 bacteria that live in the human mouth, a large proportion helps keep your gums and teeth healthy and makes your food easier to digest.
It is only when the harmful bacteria outweigh the good that your health is in danger.
Your mouth is the entry point to your digestive system and respiratory tracts. This makes it a window to the rest of your body and your overall health and wellbeing.
Researchers found that the bacteria in your mouth can travel through your body via the bloodstream, affecting vital organs such as the heart and brain. Amongst others, poor dental health is linked to cardiovascular disease and pregnancy complications.
This means oral health is not only essential to keep your teeth and mouth healthy, but the rest of your body too.
What causes bacterial imbalances in the mouth?
Usually, you don’t have to worry about bacterial imbalances in your mouth.
When paired with good oral health care, your body’s natural defences can keep bacteria under control. Your saliva, for example, washes away food and neutralises acids to protect your teeth and gums from microbes.
But without proper oral hygiene, bad bacteria can quickly bloom and become an issue. That means daily brushing and flossing your teeth and regular visits to your trusted dentist for a professional clean are essential.
We do not yet fully understand what lets the harmful bacteria wreak havoc in your mouth.
Research suggests that some of the triggers may include:
- Dental care: Not looking after your teeth and gums can allow bad bacteria to multiply and cause bad breath, gum disease (Periodontitis), cavities and even tooth loss.
- Genetic factors: You may also be genetically predispositioned to not have enough helpful bacteria or more of the bad kind.
- Weak immune system: Your immune system can greatly affect how bacteria interact in your mouth, and may even give the bad kind an advantage.
- Dry mouth: Some medications, like painkillers, antihistamines, diuretics and antidepressants can reduce your saliva flow, leaving your teeth and gums without protection.
Health Conditions Linked To Poor Oral Health
In combination with these factors, poor oral health can lead to a build-up of bacteria and cause a range health issues.
Your oral health can contribute to diseases and conditions, including:
Endocarditis is the inflammation of your heart’s inner lining that is usually caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that have entered the bloodstream. This is believed to be caused by poor oral hygiene or gum disease.
Symptoms are similar to the flu and pneumonia. Since they aren’t always severe and develop over time, Endocarditis often goes unnoticed until the heart valves are seriously damaged.
Gum disease is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that includes heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases. It is one of Australia’s largest health problems and accounts for one in four of all deaths, claiming the life of one person every 12 minutes.
The connection between oral health and cardiovascular disease is not yet well understood, but research suggests that oral bacteria can cause serious infections and inflammation that may lead to permanent heart and blood vessel damage.
Pregnancy and birth complications
Periodontitis has previously also been linked to birth and pregnancy complications, particularly placental dysfunction as the result of infections, premature birth and low birth weight. This is concerning because gum disease is a highly prevalent condition. About 40 per cent of pregnant women have some form of the disease.
Infections in one or both lungs are caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. Poor oral health is seen as a significant risk for pneumonia in older adults. As you age, your
oral flora changes, making you more susceptible to periodontal disease.
If the immune system is weakened and certain saliva-reducing medications are involved, infections can rapidly spread, increasing your risk of pneumonia.
Pre-existing Conditions That May Affect Your Oral Health
Vice versa, there are many pre-existing health conditions that can cause poor oral health with the potential of serious infections. Conditions like diabetes, HIV, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease can have negative effects on your oral health.
If you have any of the above mentioned conditions, talk to your dentist about the risks, mentioning any medications you are taking to find out how they may be affecting your oral health.
The Symptoms of Poor Oral Hygiene
If your gums look firm, pale pink and fit snugly around your teeth, it’s a good sign that you have a healthy smile.
If your teeth and gums are struggling, you will notice a combination of the following:
- Bad breath
- Swollen or puffy gums
- Bright red, dusky red or purplish gums
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Taste of blood when brushing or flossing your teeth
- White or yellow patches on your teeth
- One tooth is getting darker over time
- Pus between your teeth and gums
- Loose teeth or loss of teeth
- New spaces developing between your teeth
- Painful chewing or lingering discomfort
- Teeth that are sensitive to hot and cold drinks
Your gums may also pull away from your teeth, making your teeth look longer than they are.
You might also notice a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
How to Protect Your Oral Health
Here are some tips to keep your mouth healthy and reduce the risk of serious health conditions:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste and floss daily.
- Use mouthwash to remove any food particles left after brushing and flossing.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn.
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
- Avoid tobacco use.
When to See Your Dentist
Prevention is, as always, better than cure. You should have regular dental checkups and professional teeth cleaning done by your trusted dentist to ensure your oral health is in check. If you notice anything out of the ordinary about your teeth or gums, give your dentist a call.