There’s more to dental hygiene than fresh breath and a winning smile, as poor oral hygiene can lead to serious physical and mental health conditions.
We all grew up being nagged by our mothers to brush twice a day, right? As adults, and some of us now parents ourselves, we know that inadequate oral care can lead to tooth decay and loss, gingivitis and gum disease. But what many people don’t realise is that, left untreated, oral diseases can lead to serious, life-threatening medical problems and practising proper oral hygiene habits is a lifelong commitment to your overall wellness.
According to the World Health Organisation, oral health diseases affect nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide, with almost 10 per cent of the global population affected by severe periodontitis (gum disease), leading to pain, discomfort, disfigurement and even death. While the incidence of oral health diseases are much higher in poor or disadvantaged population groups, it also strikes closer to home with a surprisingly high three in every 10 adults in Australia suffering from a moderate to severe form of periodontitis.
Simply put, what’s going on in our mouths – the entry point to our digestive and respiratory systems – can also offer vital clues to our overall health.
What conditions can be linked to oral health?
You might be surprised to discover that beyond the impact of cavities (tooth decay), gum (periodontal) disease and oral cancer, oral health is also linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Here are just a few of the conditions known to be impacted or caused by poor oral health.
Endocarditis – Some dental and surgical procedures increase the risk of the bacteria at the root of tooth decay and gum disease entering the bloodstream leading to a life-threatening infection of the heart valves or inner membrane of the heart (endocardium).
Cardiovascular disease –Ongoing research indicates that the inflammation associated with periodontal disease can lead to a substantially higher risk of heart attack. Oral infections can also lead to clogged arteries, stroke and other serious cardiovascular episodes
Pneumonia – Poor oral hygiene is associated with a higher incidence of pneumonia morbidity in older people, as unhealthy bacteria in the mouth multiply rapidly and can travel to the lungs leading to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
Pregnancy and birth complications – Periodontitis is a known risk factor for premature labour and low birth weight. Research suggests this is due to bacterial migration from periodontal tissues reaching the bloodstream and targeting the foetus, causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Kidney disease – Periodontitis and kidney diseases are both associated with inflammatory markers and preliminary studies have demonstrated a connection between the two diseases, with chronic kidney disease patients also suffering gum disease at higher risk of death than those with healthy gums.
Diabetes – Diabetes and gum disease go hand in glove. Not only can uncontrolled diabetes lead to higher blood sugar levels that can promote the growth of oral bacteria in the mouth leading to severe dental problems, untreated periodontal disease can cause blood sugar spikes that make it harder to control blood sugar levels
Anxiety – Mental and dental health are also inextricably linked as people with mental health issues are more likely to neglect oral hygiene, which can result in dental issues that in turn lead to social anxiety and self-esteem problems.
HIV – People with immunosuppression because of infection by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are more susceptible to infection, so are at greater risk of developing oral issues including fever blisters, thrush, ulcers, gingivitis and periodontitis, and of suffering from more severe outcomes.
So, what should I look out for?
We recommend visiting your dentist at least twice a year to maintain oral health and monitor potential oral health issues, rather than waiting for the onset of symptoms. However, some of the early warning signs of gum disease to watch for are mouth ulcers, sores and lumps in the mouth that don’t heal within a week; gums that bleed easily; bleeding or swollen gums; loose or lost teeth; chronic bad breath; receding gums; sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures; jaw pain or mouth pain when eating.
If you notice any of the above, it’s a sign to see your dentist immediately for evaluation and treatment.
Top tips for healthy teeth and gums
Taking good care of your teeth and gums should start early, but it’s never too late to start. You can reduce your risk of costly dental procedures and chronic health issues with these simple daily steps.
- Brush your teeth twice daily, for two minutes each time, after breakfast and at bedtime. It’s best for your health to use safe products that are devoid of cheap fillers, harsh chemicals, artificial dyes and fake flavours. Keeko Charcoal Toothpaste is a natural alternative recommended by dentists that draws on Ayurvedic medicine and native Australian botanicals.
- There’s an old saying “You don’t have to floss all your teeth just the ones you want to keep.” In other words, floss your teeth gently every day, being extra careful of your gums.
- Swish and spit your way to a healthy smile with a daily dose of alcohol-free mouth rinse that cleanses the teeth of residual food and plaque particles.
- Keep your tongue in tip top shape. Just like the gums and teeth, the tongue can harbour a host of bad bacteria. A tongue scraper or a toothbrush with a scraper can help kick them to the kerb… and leave your breath fresh.
- Visit your dentist regularly! Twice yearly dental check-ups and cleanings not only help keep the plaque build-up at bay but provide your dentist an opportunity to catch and monitor potential oral health issues early.
- Limit your sugar intake, as excessive consumption of sugar feeds oral bacteria which can create enamel dissolving acids.
- Do we even need to say it? Stop smoking. People who smoke or vape are at a much higher risk of developing oral health issues include cancer, gum problems, tooth loss and root decay.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.