Oral health and its importance to your overall health
Taking care of your teeth does plenty more for your health than just brighten your smile. Proper dental hygiene positively impacts many aspects of your life. From eating, smiling and socializing to diabetes, heart health, and cancer, oral health affects our daily lives in ways that are often overlooked by even the best brusher.
Our mouth is an essential part of many everyday activities, making its importance understood, albeit often overlooked. Recent studies have now shown that the mouth mirrors the condition of our body as a whole – making regularly scheduled oral checkups and routine maintenance all the more important.
Oral health refers to the health of your mouth, including your teeth, tongue and gums. A healthy mouth is often a good indication that you’re healthy overall. Adversely, poor oral health may be an indication of other underlying health problems that could otherwise go unnoticed.
“There is a pretty big connection between your periodontal health – which is your gum health – and your cardiovascular health,” explains periodontist Dr. Victor Mak of MAK Periodontics and Implants. “A lot of patients do not know that there is quite a link that has been studied for many years already.”
Plaque can build up in our arteries, similar to how it does on our teeth if they are not taken care of, and clogging of the carotid arteries can occur, leading to heart-related health complications. Increased bacteria from gum disease can lead to inflammation throughout the whole body, a major risk for heart disease. “The more plaque you have, the higher the chance that you are going to have a stroke or heart attack,” reveals Dr. Mak.
While whiter teeth may be high on your list of your priorities, overlooking your gum health is a mistake you don’t want to make. When plaque accumulates along our gum line, it creates a breeding ground for more plaque and, more negatively, more bacteria to build up between our teeth and gums. This results in gingivitis, the beginning stages of gum disease characterized by inflamed gums due to bacteria growth.
Gum disease often goes unnoticed until it needs to be treated. It’s the leading cause of tooth loss for adults and can lead to an increased risk for more serious diseases including respiratory disease.
“It’s a silent disease. If you don’t have a professional to check it, most of the time, the only objective thing you can see is bleeding. If you don’t have bleeding, people don’t pay attention to it,” Dr. Mak says. But once gums begin to bleed, they are already infected. If left untreated, the gum tissue attached to the teeth breaks down, causing the bone that holds the teeth in place to also break down. This can then result in tooth loss.
Along with the risks to our periodontal, cardiovascular and respiratory health, research has shown that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases – ones that affect many organs or the whole body – are first apparent in the mouth. Swollen gums, a dry mouth, or mouth ulcers can be early indications of diseases such as leukemia, pancreatic cancer, and kidney disease. With regularly scheduled oral examinations, dental professionals may be the first to spot any serious health issues.
For those with type II diabetes, closely monitoring your gum health has an increased importance; the disease can have a negative impact on one’s oral health and vice versa.
“If you improve your periodontal health, then you can improve your diabetic control at the same time. Basically, it’s two way traffic,” notes Dr. Mak. Additionally, infections can cause insulin resistance, complicating blood sugar control.
In addition to gums, saliva is a helpful tool for doctors to diagnose many health issues. Stress responses, osteoporosis, cancer markers, hepatitis hormones, and HIV-specific antibodies, among other things, have all been detected through saliva testing – just another way our mouth offers a look into what is going on inside our bodies.
Because digestion begins with physical and chemical processes in the mouth, poor dental hygiene can lead to digestion problems such as irritable bowel syndrome or intestinal failure.
Maintaining good oral health also allows for eating without pain or hesitation. Teeth in need of increased attention often limit the amount, texture and temperature of consumed food and beverages. While this unfortunate consequence doesn’t lead to illness, it can hinder one’s ability to eat healthy or enjoy food. Additionally, infections to the gums can lead to tooth loss resulting in unnecessary oral and facial pain.
Similarly, proper oral hygiene can inspire confidence and kindness in social settings. Bad breath, inflamed gums, and discoloured teeth may cause irritation or embarrassment to those who neglect the health of their mouth and lead to a social anxiety or a hidden smile. While the suggested flossing and brushing may not be all that is necessary to rectify your oral ailments, a dental specialist will be able to address any such concern.
TIPS FOR TREATING YOUR TEETH WELL
“Surprisingly, a lot of people think they are brushing their teeth well but in fact, they are not,” says Dr. Mak. “They basically go through it once or don’t pay attention to brushing their teeth along the gum line – they are missing out on a lot of the important areas they should be cleaning.” Making this mistake can be costly to one’s oral health and, consequently, one’s overall health.
Dr. Mak’s advice for maintaining good dental hygiene? “It’s really basic,” he says. “You have to decrease the plaque as much as possible by means of regular brushing and regular flossing. At the same time, you have to check with your dentist regularly.”
“Not only just because they are checking for cavities,” he notes, but the plethora of health issues that may be discovered are too great to overlook. “If you look at just teeth themselves and you have cavities and bad breath, it’s actually the first sign of having gum disease,” says Dr. Mak.
Proper brushing, including the gum line, should be done at least twice daily for two to three minutes with a fluoride toothpaste. Brushing is especially important first thing in the morning and before bedtime, using short, gentle strokes on all surfaces of both the upper and lower teeth. Proper flossing should also be done daily, with floss moving back and forth and up and down against the side of each tooth.
In addition to the daily practice of proper brushing and flossing coupled with consistent visits to your dental professional, there are several ways to make the health of your mouth a priority:
- Avoid cigarettes and tobacco
- Limit soft drinks, coffee and alcohol
- Eat a healthy diet
- Reach your daily requirements of calcium and vitamin D
- Know the signs and symptoms of oral cancer
- Drink lots of water, especially after sugary foods
- Limit the number of snacks you eat in a day
- Start children early
- Use a anti-bacterial mouthwash after brushing
Replace your toothbrush regularly
Preventative care is your best course of action against a mouth full of problems. Early detection and, consequently, early treatment of problematic areas within your mouth may save you from more serious health risks beyond tooth loss or bad breath.
While looking good and feeling good may be your top priorities when it comes to your oral hygiene, maintaining the health of your mouth will give you many more reasons to smile.