One of the reasons people often neglect their oral health is because they don’t realize the impact it has on the rest of their body. Your mouth is teeming with bacteria and, although most of them are harmless, some of them cause disease. Since your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, harmful bacteria can affect those areas as well.
Daily brushing and flossing usually keeps bacteria under control but without proper care, it can reach levels that lead to nasty oral infections like tooth decay and gum disease.
Keep in mind that certain medications (decongestants, painkillers, antidepressants, diuretics and more) can reduce the flow of your saliva. Saliva is important because it washes away food and neutralizes mouth acids, protecting you from microbes. If you take any of these medications, make sure your dentist knows.
Diseases linked to oral health
Endocarditis: Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves. It usually occurs when germs from another part of your body (ahem, your mouth) spread through your bloodstream, attaching themselves to certain areas in your heart.
Cardiovascular disease: Research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and even strokes are linked to the infection and inflammation caused by oral bacteria.
Birth complications: Periodontitis is a gum infection, a very serious one, that damages the soft tissue and bone that support your teeth. In turn, this disease has been linked to premature births and low birth weights.
Pneumonia: When bacteria in your mouth is pulled into your mouth, it can cause respiratory diseases like pneumonia.
Diseases that affect oral health
Diabetes: Diabetes reduces your body’s resistance to infection which is why gum disease is more common (and severe) in diabetic patients. In turn, research has shown that people with gum disease have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, it’s important that you visit a dentist regularly.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis, as you probably know, weakens the bones. Among them, is your jaw bone. This is why osteoporosis is often associated with tooth loss.
Other conditions that have been linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Protecting your oral health
Good oral hygiene includes brushing your teeth at least twice a day. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles (don’t forget to replace it every three months) and a fluoride toothpaste. Floss once a day and use mouthwash as well. A healthy diet, especially one with limited sugar, can do wonders for your mouth. And make sure to schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.