5 Ways Poor Dental Health Impacts Overall Health
It can take a lot of effort to get a smile you can feel proud of. However, a healthy smile isn’t just about boosting self-confidence. Practising good dental health enables us to feed ourselves, improve our diet and, ultimately, feel better about ourselves.
It is no coincidence that we link oral health with well-being; our mouths are an entry point to the rest of our bodies. It is where signals for general health problems often first appear, in the form of ulcers, bleeding gums and bone loss. Meanwhile, our saliva can be used to detect compounds from drugs, hormones and antibodies. It should come as no surprise that neglecting dental health will have an impact.
Most of us know that poor dental health leads to cavities and decay. However, neglecting our oral hygiene can lead to far more severe health problems than a toothache or unsightly stains. In the same way that our general health can impact on our mouths, our dental health can impact on our overall health. Poor dental care can have a significant effect on immune system disorders, respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease and more.
The Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health
Like many areas of the body, the mouth is teeming with bacteria. While a lot of it is harmless, the bacteria that is caused by inadequate oral health is far from harmless. The mouth is the entry point to our digestive and respiratory tracts. When bacteria finds its way into other areas of our bodies, it can be responsible for some extremely serious diseases.
Gum disease is caused by unhealthy bacteria that lodge between our teeth and gums. Simply brushing teeth can be enough to push bacteria into the bloodstream. Once it’s there, bacteria can travel to major organs and wreak havoc, creating new infections.
As well as bacteria, the inflammation associated with gum disease can also spread the effects of poor dental health. When gums become red and swollen, they are showing an inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth. The inflammation releases chemicals from immune cells in the gums, which can have a severe impact on the body.
The Mouth-Body Connection
The concept of bacteria or inflammatory chemicals entering the bloodstream and influencing the behaviours of other tissues and organs is known as the mouth-body connection. The body senses an awful lot when the mouth is neglected. While not all suspected links between gum disease and other illnesses have been proven, there is no denying a connection.
The mouth-body connection is a concept that has been around for a long time. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates attributed the cure of a case of arthritis to a tooth extraction. Since then, the idea has grown, and the concept of focal infections has become well recognised. The theory suggests that focal infections are the cause of many chronic diseases. While this isn’t quite the case, and certainly isn’t a reason to purposely extract teeth, there is definitely an association that we should be aware of.
How Gum Disease Progresses
One of the main reasons we clean our teeth is to remove plaque. Plaque consists of a sticky combination of bacteria and the waste materials they produce. There’s a reason it doesn’t sound nice; the bacteria living in plaque can produce acid that erodes tooth enamel and creates cavities. However, there are other types of bacteria that harbour within plaque. These bacteria tend to be buried deep down in areas between the teeth and gums where there is very little oxygen. This produces the perfect environment for them, and the result is inflammation of the tissues that surround the teeth. The thicker bacterial plaque is, the more likely that inflammation will result.
Initially, gum disease prevents itself as gingivitis, manifesting as bleeding gums when teeth are brushed. Unfortunately, many people don’t realise the severity of bleeding gums and even think it is normal when brushing. When left untreated, gingivitis will develop into the more serious form of gum disease, periodontitis. This can be noted by the destruction of soft tissues. As gums start to pull away from the teeth, the bacteria can develop further in newly formed pockets. Periodontitis can manifest itself quickly, every time food is eaten, or teeth brushed, bacteria are pushed into the body and further inflammation is triggered.
Health Conditions Linked to Poor Dental Health
Over the last decade, there has been a considerable amount of research linking oral health to other health conditions. The cause is more often than not the chronic inflammation that is related to gum disease. The constant inflammation damages cells and the DNA they contain, resulting in an increased risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease – bacteria from inflammation of the gums can enter the bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart. This can cause hardening of the arteries as plaque develops on the inner walls and can decrease blood flow through the body. The result is an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. On top of this, the inner layer of the heart can become infected and inflamed causing endocarditis.
- Diabetes – inflammation of the gums can make it harder for your body to control blood sugar, which can worsen the symptoms of diabetes. People living with diabetes are also more susceptible to gum disease as it reduces the body’s resistance to infection.
- Respiratory infections – breathing in bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period could cause lung infections such as pneumonia.
- Dementia – if the bacteria from gum disease enter the brain through the nerve channels or bloodstream it can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cancer – inflammation fuels cell division and makes cancer-causing mutations more likely to appear. Bacteria can also reduce the ability of the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells.
While not every link has been proven, there are too many to deny. The connection between dental health and overall health is irrefutable.
How to Protect Your Dental Health
Practising proper dental hygiene is more important than we ever realised. To protect your teeth, you should brush them at least twice a day and, ideally, after every meal. Flossing and using mouthwash can further help to eliminate bacteria from your mouth. You should also regularly visit a dentist to ensure you treat any problems and prevent further complications. Even for missing or damaged teeth, treatments such as All on 4 implants can restore your smile and help maintain your health.
By protecting your oral health, you will be protecting your general health too. With the associated health conditions that come with poor dental health and gum disease, it’s not worth taking any chances.