Decades back, a physician who suspected lung infection or heart disease wouldn’t probably refer their patient to a dentist. The same went for diabetes, arthritis, pneumonia or any other serious medical condition.
However, times have changed and scientists have found a link between oral hygiene and general health.
Poor oral health not only comes with the risk of bad breath and tooth loss but can also cause cardiovascular diseases, lung infections, and other serious health issues. Chronic oral infections, meanwhile, like dental abscesses, gum disease or gingivitis, are often an indicator of an underlying health problem.
Oral Hygiene and General Health – How Are They Related?
Did you know that gum and dental health problems can affect the rest of your body? Left untreated, oral diseases like periodontitis, tooth decay, and oral thrush can damage your teeth and contribute to serious health issues. Here, we’ll examine a few ways in which oral hygiene is related to general health.
But before that, let’s learn a little about good oral health.
What Is Oral Hygiene All About?
Our mouths contain more than 700 different strains of bacteria. While most aren’t destructive, some can negatively affect your physical wellbeing if not treated in a timely fashion.
Luckily, the human body has natural defences to fight off this bad bacteria. Along with a good oral care routine, this is the ideal way to keep dental and mouth infections at bay. Some good oral health practices include:
- Brushing 2-3 times a day
- Flossing once per day
- Regular tongue cleaning
- Eating healthy, nutritious, wholesome foods
- Limiting intake of sodas, sweets, caffeine and alcohol
- Increasing calcium intake
- Abstaining from tobacco
- Replacing your toothbrush every 3-4 months
- Visiting your dentist on a regular basis and performing routine cleanings and check-ups
Conditions Affecting Dental Health
Some health conditions initially show warning signs and symptoms through dental or oral infections. Common systemic diseases with oral symptoms are:
- Diabetes – This causes more severe and chronic gum disease because the body isn’t capable of resisting infection.
- Alzheimer’s – As Alzheimer’s worsens, oral health also deteriorates.
- Osteoporosis – This causes bone and tooth loss due to weak and brittle bones, which is sometimes the side effect of treatment.
- Celiac or Crohn’s Disease – This may cause canker sores.
- Blood disorders – These can result in pale gums that are susceptible to bleeding.
- HIV/AIDS – These conditions often cause mucosal lesions in the mouth.
- Bulimia/Anorexia – Eating disorders can cause tooth staining or discolouration.
Health Conditions Caused By Poor Oral Hygiene
Poor oral health can cause more than total tooth loss/staining and bad breath. Some of the most common health problems linked to oral health issues are:
- Cardiovascular Disease
There are various heart conditions and events linked to oral infections, such as blocked arteries, stroke, and endocarditis. If your teeth are constantly laden with plaque, your gums will become chronically inflamed. This inflammation or infection affects blood vessels throughout your body, contributing to cardiovascular disease. Over time, this can create heart vessel blockages, which increase the risk of heart attack and hypertension.
Endocarditis occurs when the inner lining of your heart is inflamed. Most often caused by dental bacteria (plaque), endocarditis can lead to blood clots, abnormal heart rhythm, and other potentially dangerous conditions. According to one study, 91% of patients with cardiovascular disease suffered from moderate to severe periodontitis, compared to 66% of heart-healthy patients. Both heart and dental conditions have several risk factors in common, such as poor diet, irregular sleeping patterns, smoking, and obesity.
- Lung Infections
Oral infections like periodontal disease increase the likelihood of contracting a serious lung infection such as pneumonia. There are certain harmful bacteria that breed in the mouth and reach the lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. This bacterial contamination can also compromise immunity, making it harder for your body to fight lung infections.
Pre-existing diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be worsened by severe gum disease. Chronic lung irritation and inflammation can affect a person’s ability to breathe normally and maintain proper oxygen flow.
- Premature Birth
Pregnant women have high levels of certain hormones like progesterone and estrogen, which increases the risk of oral health problems like gingivitis and periodontitis.
Some studies link gum disease and premature birth. (Premature birth occurs when a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation.) Premature babies may have more health problems at birth and later in life than that born full-term.
That’s why it’s crucial to maintain proper oral health while pregnant. If you notice symptoms like bad breath, loose teeth, canker sores, bleeding gums, or toothache during pregnancy, call your dentist right away. If you have an infection, you’ll need immediate treatment to help prevent problems for your baby.
Oral health and overall health are closely related, with one affecting the other. A dentist only needs a quick, non-invasive examination to determine whether you have a healthy mouth. With a couple of tests, they may also be able to detect any underlying health conditions causing oral infections. Remember that prevention is always better than cure. Even if you don’t have any oral health issues, visit your family dentists for regular cleanings and checkups.