There are other reasons to aim for good oral health besides a great smile and fresh breath. Building great oral habits can prevent tooth decay, gum disease, halitosis and will prolong the life of your teeth as well.
Centuries ago, people only had half the life expectancy of people of today due to infections that occurred owing to poor oral health. This is because your oral health has a direct influence on your overall well-being. Many people do not realize this but thanks to modern dentistry and good oral habits, people can live longer and healthier.
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The fact is, keeping your mouth free from gum disease and tooth decay is the key to avoiding serious illnesses. Dentists at MyDental Group, as stated on their website, do what they do to offer more than just a beautiful smile. They do their best to help patients avoid severe medical conditions like heart attack or stroke, uncontrollable diabetes, and even preterm labor for pregnant women.
The incentive to keep the mouth healthy and free of diseases is growing. Dental practitioners and medical professionals are convinced of the link between the two. Even some of your saliva can already betray a lot about your state of health.
Moreover, many medical conditions first display symptoms on the mouth. This is a part of the reason why doctors peek inside during check-ups. Many diseases that affect the whole body and not just a specific part, might first be noticed in the mouth. For example, those with AIDS or diabetes might start complaining due to mouth lesions or other oral complaints. The Academy of General Dentistry put the percentage of systemic conditions having oral symptoms at 90% of all cases.
The Role of Saliva
Your saliva is also a great sample to check for any underlying conditions. Even newborn’s saliva can be used to test for cortisol levels as indicatory of the stress response. You can even check how much bone loss a patient has due to osteoporosis simply by checking the saliva for specific proteins.
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These mouth swabs can also check for illegal drug use, the presence of environmental toxins, hormone levels, and even antibodies that indicate an HIV or hepatitis infection. Because of this, saliva test kits for HIV could be developed. The saliva is literally a window to an individual’s state of health that it might be possible to do future tests with saliva instead of blood.
Saliva does not just detect medical conditions but it can also prevent infection. Bacteria and viruses are present everywhere, and when you open your mouth to eat or put your hand into your mouth, you become exposed and vulnerable to developing diseases. It’s a good thing that saliva has antibodies that can attack the viral pathogens like HIV and the simple cold. Proteins in the saliva can be weakened by these viruses leading to a fungal infection referred to as oral thrush.
Bacteria growth can also be inhibited by saliva because of enzymes that destroy them in a variety of ways like inhibiting their metabolism disrupting their vital enzyme systems and degrading their membranes.
Despite its health-promoting abilities, saliva cannot provide 100% protection. At any time, there is nothing less than 500 species of bacteria in the mouth. They can form plaque, which sticks to your teeth and leads to the development of health issues.
Every time you fail to brush your teeth and floss, plaque starts to build up along the gumline. This allows other bacteria to collect in that small space between the gums and teeth, leading to gingivitis, a gum infection. When gingivitis is not treated, it can worsen to periodontitis, a more serious gum infection. At worst, the most severe type of gum infection, acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis or trench mouth can happen.
Without a way to get into the bloodstream, bacteria present in the mouth will not lead to infection. However, patients who have gum disease might provide them an entry point when undergoing invasive dental procedures or even just during brushing and flossing. When you are also taking any medications or undergoing treatment, saliva flow might be limited and antibiotics can destroy the balance of bacteria in the mouth. This will then compromise the normal defenses of your mouth and allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Most people who have a healthy immune system will not experience any problems when the bacteria get into the bloodstream. Your body will kill them and avoid infection. But, if you have a weak immune system due to a medical condition or cancer treatment, the bacteria can lead to infections in the other parts of the body. An example of this is infective endocarditis, wherein oral bacteria gets into the bloodstream and sticks to a diseased heart valves’ linings.
Conditions Connected to Poor Oral Health
Gum infection that is left untreated can eventually lead to tooth loss. But, having an incomplete set of teeth is the least of your worries. Oral infections might be the reason for diagnosis of future medical conditions, even if you or your doctor have not made this connection. Though it is impossible to state that having gum disease or tooth decay will definitely lead to future diseases, poor oral health does not help lessen the chances of contracting worse conditions.
In 2011, a study found that dentists are able to tell which patients have diabetes up to 73% of the time just by looking at their missing teeth and examining unusual openings between the gums and teeth. When they also conduct blood tests, their accuracy goes up to 92%. Because many diabetes sufferers are not even aware they have the disease, dentists might recommend suspected patients to visit their doctor for a blood sugar test.
Gum disease is also a complication of diabetes as the disease leads to blood vessel changes. Blood flow becomes impaired and later on leads to weak gums that may easily fall victim to infection. Unfortunately, gum disease makes it tough to control diabetes and infections may lead to insulin resistance.
2. Heart Disease
It has been proven by various studies that periodontal disease increases the chance of the patient having a stroke or a heart attack with their risk going up to 19% compared to those without periodontal disease.
The theory is that the bacteria present in the mouth causes inflammation in several parts of the body as well as the arteries. Atherosclerotic plaques might develop in the arteries, such that a heart attack or stroke becomes more possible. The more serious an infection is, the higher is the risk. In a study, researchers have discovered that patients who have lost teeth had a higher occurrence of carotid artery plaque.
3. Pre-term Birth
Pregnant women should make sure to visit a dentist for a check-up. Patients who have periodontal disease might be at higher risk for preterm birth. There are not enough studies to explain what really happens but a theory is that gum infections trigger an immune response and lead to preterm labor. Estimates have attributed up to 18% of preterm, low-weight births yearly can be linked to oral infections. Through the bloodstream, bacteria and toxins might enter the fetus and hinder growth and development.
A study in Australia has also found that women suffering from periodontal disease need more time to get pregnant in the first place.
Although a link between oral health and the knees seems impossible, a study has linked knee osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis to oral bacteria. When researchers analyzed fluid in the joints, gum bacteria had been found in some of the patients. These bacteria in the joints could worsen arthritis too.
5. Respiratory Illnesses
Unfortunately, bacteria present in the mouth also travel to the lungs when tooth plaque is inhaled. This possibly leads to pneumonia or other similarly acute respiratory diseases. The risk increases when the patient has existing medical conditions that may weaken the immune system. Lastly, bacteria found in the airways may make chronic lung conditions like emphysema become worse.
Ways to Promote Overall Well-Being
It is important to highlight the connection between oral health and overall well-being so that patients remain healthier longer. Important steps need to be taken, like informing their dentist regarding any medications they are taking. These might have implications that make their oral health worse. For example, those who take drugs for cancer or osteoporosis will experience poor healing of the bones. Given that, dentists should watch out when doing an extraction.
Dentists might also make some observations during your visit that might warrant additional tests or visits to the doctor. Because they might see symptoms indicating a more serious condition, it is important to follow your dentist and get checked out. This makes visiting your dental clinic much more worthwhile, as you can directly benefit from an earlier diagnosis of an illness.
Lastly, the link between oral and overall health is another reminder to everyone to take care of their mouth and teeth. The consequences might be much more serious than simple bad breath or cavities, so developing good habits and visiting the dentist regularly can literally keep you healthy longer.
About The Author:
Dr. Emily Pow was the previous Secretary and President of the Bendigo Oral Health and Dentistry Society. Now she practices in Australia at MyDental Group. Her expertise is in Family, Cosmetic, and Implant Dentistry.