When we talk about oral health, we’re talking about your teeth, tongue, gums and other structures in your mouth. Basically, everything you use to eat, talk, smile and frown. Maintaining good oral health does more than give you a beautiful smile. Interestingly, taking good care of your mouth can also reduce your chances for serious illness.
The first signs of oral health concerns vary. Symptoms may include bad breath, bleeding gums, and pain. One of the most common ailments is periodontal disease, more frequently known as gum disease. People who have gum disease have an increased risk for developing heart disease and other cardiovascular health issues. Almost half of adults over the age of 30 have some form of gum disease.
Certain conditions and habits increase your chances of developing gum disease. Poor oral health, faulty fillings, dry mouth and conditions that compromise the effectiveness of your immune system are common culprits. Lifestyle choices like smoking and diets high in sugar and alcohol also play a role in causing gum disease and other oral health issues. Even your genes can make an impact on your oral health.
Overall, while you can’t avoid every factor that might compromise your dental health, practicing good hygiene and and seeing a dentist regularly can greatly reduce your risk. Here’s more information about how good oral health reduces your chance of serious illness.
Eliminating bacteria buildup helps prevent cardiovascular disease
Bacteria contributes to most oral health issues. Various bacteria cause gum disease, which occurs when your gums pull away from your teeth due to plaque buildup. Brushing your teeth prevents this by cleaning away plaque and other debris. Without regular brushing and dental care, the accumulation of different bacteria can eventually cause cavities and infection.
Regular care by a dental professional gives your teeth a deep clean and flags any potential health concerns. In addition to cleaning away plaque, they also remove hardened tartar, which can be especially hard to take care of on your own. Visiting your dental care team routinely, in conjunction with brushing and flossing as directed, is scientifically proven to prevent gum disease.
If left untreated, poor oral health can cause significant problems in other parts of your body. Bacteria can enter your bloodstream, cause inflammation or even release harmful chemicals. This can lead to several health concerns, including:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory infections such as pneumonia
- Kidney disease
- Blood infection
For most people, visiting a dentist every six months to a year is sufficient, according to the American Dental Association. However, people with a history of oral health issues may need to visit their dentist or a periodontal specialist more frequently. Discuss your needs with your dental care team to determine what’s best for you.
Taking care of your teeth (or not) can impact cognitive health
Did you know that the same bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis, that causes gum disease is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia? New research has found a link between the two ailments.
Dementia makes it difficult to think clearly, remember things, or reason. Eventually, people who have dementia require a caregiver because they forget their surroundings, people they care about and cannot adequately take care of themselves. Alzheimer’s is the most frequently diagnosed form of dementia, and it’s also a leading cause of death in the United States.
Taking care of your teeth can help you take care of your cognitive health down the road. Here are a few good steps to follow:
- Brush your teeth twice a day, every day
- See a dentist regularly for checkups
- Avoid excessive sugar in your diet
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Don’t smoke
Preventing cavities prevents infection
Cavities are another oral health concern that can lead to more serious health consequences, and they are caused by—you guessed it—plaque. The bacteria in the plaque on your teeth produce acid that breaks down tooth enamel. Cavities aren’t painful at first, but they can cause serious pain if they progress and reach the inside of your tooth.
You can prevent cavities by following good oral hygiene, making healthy lifestyle choices, and seeing your dentist regularly. Some conditions, like dry mouth, can make it hard to prevent cavities. If you don’t treat your cavities in time, bacteria from the plaque has the potential to spread into your bloodstream. This can cause serious illnesses like osteomyelitis, necrotizing mediastinitis, and meningitis.
Tobacco is bad for your teeth and your health
Using tobacco puts you at risk for many different health conditions like cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and blood clots. However, cigarettes aren’t the only tobacco product you should avoid. Smokeless tobacco, chewing tobacco, vapes, and other tobacco products also increase your risk for tooth decay, gum disease and other oral health concerns. As a result, both dentists and doctors recommend avoiding tobacco products altogether.
Tobacco use can ruin more than just your teeth. Tobacco products, especially chewing tobacco, increase your risk for oral cancer. Smoking is also linked to chronic illnesses like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s never too late to quit smoking, no later how long you’ve engaged in this bad habit. The health benefits of quitting begin minutes after your last cigarette and last a lifetime. Stop smoking to support good oral health, reduce stress on your heart, lower your risk of cancer and much more.