A healthy mouth is good for more than just a pretty smile. Oral health can affect the entire body, making dental care more than just a cosmetic concern.
Many people know that poor oral hygiene can lead to gum disease, tooth decay and even lost teeth. But are you aware that failing to brush or visit the dentist regularly also can lead to more serious health issues? According to Colgate, recent research suggests that there may be an association between oral infections, particularly gum disease, and cardiovascular disease and preterm birth. Gum disease also may make diabetes more difficult to control, since infections may cause insulin resistance and disrupt blood sugar.
Your mouth also can serve as an infection source elsewhere in the body. Bacteria from your mouth can enter the bloodstream through infection sites in the gums. If your immune system is healthy, there should not be any adverse effects. However, if your immune system is compromised, these bacteria can flow to other areas of the body where they can cause infection. An example of this is oral bacteria sticking to the lining of diseased heart valves.
Other links have been found between oral health and overall health. In 2010, researchers from New York University who reviewed 20 years of data on the association concluded that there is a link between gum inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers in the UK also found a correlation. Analysis showed that a bacterium called “Porphyromonas gingivalis” was present in brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease but not in the samples from the brains of people who did not have Alzheimer’s. The P. gingivalis bacterium is usually associated with chronic gum disease and not dementia.
Researchers also have found a possible link between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. Harvard researchers found that men with a history of gum disease had a 64 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared with men who had never had gum disease, based on studies of men from 1986 through 2007.
While oral health issues may lead to other conditions over time, symptoms also may be indicative of underlying conditions of which a person is unaware. Inflammation of gum tissue may be a warning sign of diabetes. Oral problems, such as lesions in the mouth, may indicate the presence of HIV/AIDS. Dentists may be the first people to diagnose illnesses patients don’t even know they have.
An important step in maintaining good overall health is to include dental care in your list of preventative measures. Visit the dentist for biannual cleanings or as determined by the doctor. Do not ignore any abnormalities in the mouth. Maintain good oral hygiene at home by brushing twice a day and flossing at least once per day. Mouthwashes and rinses also may help keep teeth and gums healthy.
Oral health and other systems of the body seem to be linked. Taking care of your teeth promotes overall health.