Penulis: Nora Underwood
Why dental health is not just about your teeth
We all know that taking care of our teeth every day helps prevent cavities and gum disease. But there are even more compelling reasons to maintain good oral hygiene. In fact, different studies have indicated a link between poor oral health and other health concerns, including diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems. There is even evidence that may connect periodontal disease in mothers with the development of their babies.
What happens is this: When we eat, the bacteria that is always present in our mouths produces acids-particularly when we eat sugary or starchy foods. In the absence of good oral hygiene, the acids may lead to tooth decay. And without proper brushing and flossing, plaque may form on the teeth and irritate the gums. Unaddressed, the problem can lead to gum disease and ultimately the loss of the tooth. “It’s painful,” says Dr. Louis Dubé , president of the Canadian Dental Association and a practitioner in Sherbrooke, Quebec, “and painful on your wallet.”
A wide-ranging, far-reaching impact
But the problem can get much worse. If there is an abscess or local infection around the tooth, oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc elsewhere. One suggestion is that the bacteria attaches itself to the blood vessels in the heart and contributes to clotting, which prevents the heart from functioning normally.
Another theory is that the bacteria from the mouth may increase the amount of plaque in the coronary arteries. Both may increase the likelihood of heart attack. Similarly, some researchers believe that bacteria in the throat and mouth may be aspirated into the lungs, causing pneumonia or worsening existing lung conditions.
Serious concern for diabetics
Typically, says Dubé, someone who has diabetes is often less capable of combating any disease. And gum disease is no exception, particularly for those who do not have their diabetes under control. In fact, as Dubé notes, gum disease will add doubly to diabetics’ concerns as it can make blood sugar levels more difficult to control. Conversely, one study of diabetic Pima Indians with periodontal disease strongly showed that once the oral problems were cleared, diabetes improved.
Gum disease and the developing baby
He also points to a possible connection between a mother who does not have good oral health and the development of her baby. Research has indicated that statistically there is more chance of a pregnant woman having a baby too early or of low birth weight if she has gum disease. “The research hasn’t shown a direct effect but we can say there is a potential link,” adds Dubé, “so why take a chance?”
Brush up on your dental hygiene
The good news is that sidestepping these problems is relatively easy. “One of the things you have to do to maintain good oral health is brush and floss every day,” says Dubé, “but also see your dentist regularly so if there are any problems they can be taken care of when they’re small.”
Other things you can do to prevent periodontal disease:
- Eat a well-balanced diet to ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need. And if you keep the sugar and starch intake low-or at least brush well after eating-you’ll get fewer cavities;
- If you smoke, you not only raise your chance of having heart or lung disease but the tar and nicotine in cigarettes makes you more prone to developing gum disease;
- Check your gums regularly. Look for redness, puffiness, soreness, bleeding or sensitivity-anything that’s not comfortable.
- See your dentist regularly, whether or not you are experiencing problems. “Just because you don’t see anything doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong,” adds Dubé. “When we do an exam, we look for any sign of tissue that is not healthy.”