How Dental Hygiene Affects Overall Health
“Brushing my teeth can really make me healthier? How can my teeth affect my body?”
I get these questions all the time. For a long time, dentistry and general healthcare have been treated as separate entities. I am here to guide you and help you to see how the health of your body relies on good dental hygiene. When dentists and hygienists examine patients, we are able to screen you for key overall health conditions based on your mouth health and refer to a healthcare provider who can help you further.
Gum disease is something that affects at least 75% of the general population, but what is gum disease? Most people assume that if they had gum disease it would hurt, but in reality, it’s considered a silent and deadly disease. People often ignore the early signs and symptoms, including bleeding every time you brush, bad breath that won’t go away, red swollen gums, loose teeth, pus between the gums and teeth, and even sores in the mouth. Many of you are probably thinking, “I would notice that!” Sometimes it is subtle… until it’s not, and we have to talk about treatment to stabilize your mouth. What’s more concerning is where else that bacteria can go.
The bacteria that causes gum disease can travel through the bloodstream throughout your body and affect other organs and functions. Blood pumps throughout your entire body and your heart is the engine that runs the car. Your heart is one of the most crucial organs, as it allows oxygen and blood to travel throughout the body and keep you running. The inflammation in the gums in the mouth influences inflammation in the heart and plaque build-up in the heart, which can lead to cardiovascular disease or even a stroke. The best way to avoid complications from gum disease is to treat it and then maintain a stable mouth, in addition to seeing your physician regularly for blood work and dental hygiene check-ups.
Diabetes is something that can also link directly to mouth health and oral bacteria. One of the common issues patients with diabetes have is the inability to heal quickly and well. Therefore, people with diabetes are more likely to develop infections, such as gum disease. Gum disease is considered a complication of diabetes (especially uncontrolled diabetes) and diabetes can be difficult to control when gum disease and infection are present, putting patients at an increased risk for diabetic complications.
There’s no bones about it! Osteoporosis can be linked to oral health too! All jokes aside, we examine the bones in your jaw and how they influence your ability to keep your teeth. Over time osteoporosis can affect the density of the bone in your body, including your jaw bones. If the density of the jaw bones decreases enough, you can end up losing teeth.
So who can gum disease really effect?
Virtually, everyone. If it seems like I have already given you enough incentive to take care of your mouth, take a deep breath, because I’m not done yet!
Men with gum disease are more likely than women to develop gum disease AND certain types of cancers. They are 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers than men without gum disease. Gum disease in men can also affect prostate health and cause impotence.
Women, you’re not off the hook either. Gum disease can occur with hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and after menopause, putting women at a higher risk for breast cancer, heart disease (the leading cause for death in women in the U.S.), diabetes, pregnancy complications, and osteoporosis. Women with gum disease have a 3-5 times greater chance of pre-term birth, which often means a low birth weight for the baby. Pregnant women also have a higher risk for cavities, gum disease development, and even development of pregnancy tumors (which are not cancerous). Babies are perfect and wonderful and worth every second of everything we go through to get them… but they sure do a number on the body!
The saying “you are what you eat,” applies to your mouth as much as the rest of your body. The food and drink you consume directly affect the mouth and, more specifically, the teeth. Eating disorders can significantly affect your oral health. Often times when we do our exams, we see early signs of eating disorders or severe acid reflux wearing away the tooth structure. Bulimia is a condition where someone eats and then vomits up the food. This results in acid from the stomach sitting on the teeth and wearing off the enamel, the hard structure that protects teeth from significant wear and cavities. Anorexia, where someone eats very little, is also destructive. It can deprive the teeth and gums of nutrients they need to stay strong. Our goal as dentists and hygienists is to help guide you on a path to treat these diseases, help prevent the long-term damage, and to repair some of the physical damage that may have already occurred.
Oh yes, there’s more. In addition, people who have gum disease and a history of lung problems can actually aspirate oral bacteria into their lungs and cause infections like pneumonia! There are also links between oral health and Alzheimer’s, dementia, and HIV. Early signs of HIV often manifest in the mouth first, which is one reason why oral cancer screenings are so important. An increase in gum disease bacteria can potentially increase the risk for development of cognitive impairments associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
As you can see, there are so many reasons that dental hygiene is important. So now you know – brushing your teeth CAN really make you healthier, because dental health and general health are not separate entities. They have a symbiotic relationship. We don’t treat just your teeth. We treat you as a whole person.
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