Did you know that good dental hygiene not only helps your teeth and gums, but could also play an important role in boosting your overall health? Dental expert, Dr Uchenna Okoye, reveals the true effects of poor oral health.
It can come as a surprise to learn just how much oral health is linked to and affects your health, but what goes on in your mouth can have a powerful role on the rest of your health.
Health conditions linked to poor oral health
“Oral health can offer many clues about your overall health,” explains Dr Uchenna Okoye, clinical director of London Smiling.
In fact, your oral health can affect, be affected by or contribute to a range of health conditions and diseases. According to Dr Okoye, some of these include:
Research into oral health
Research into oral health is exploring why the state of our gums and teeth can have such a dramatic effect on the rest of our health.
Heart disease. Clogged arteries and stroke have been linked to oral bacteria and chronic inflammation from periodontitis, a severe type of gum disease. Researchers from the University of Bristol and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland found that the Streptococcus bacteria links gum disease to the heart condition. Their work showed that once the bacteria is in the bloodstream, it creates a protein called PadA which makes platelets in the blood stick together and clot.
Diabetes. This reduces the body’s resistance to infection, which can put the gums at risk. Research has found that people with poor blood sugar control can develop frequent and severe infections of the gums and the bones holding teeth in place, and may lose more teeth than those with good blood sugar control.
Osteoporosis. A condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Research published in the Journal of Periodontology found that those with osteoporosis have an 86 per cent greater risk of having gum disease – which is the major cause of tooth loss in over 35 year olds.
Auto-immune diseases. In the case of auto-immune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, they’re associated with a higher incidence of periodontal disease.
Gum disease and dental procedures that involve cutting your gums may allow bacteria into your bloodstream. If you’ve got a weak immune system, or damaged heart valve, this can cause infection in other parts of your body, such as the inner lining of your heart.
For men, studies have shown that severe gum disease can double the risk of suffering from erectile dysfunction, due to the bacteria from the mouth getting into the bloodstream. For women, gum disease is linked to an increased risk of giving birth prematurely and of having low birth weight babies.
The dental expert’s view
“Your mouth is teeming with bacteria – most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defences and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control,” explains Dr Okoye.
However, sometimes bacteria can grow out of control and cause oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease, and it’s these problems that research has shown are the key link with other health conditions.
“Dental procedures, medications or treatments that reduce saliva flow can also disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth or breach the mouth’s normal protective barriers, and may make it easier for bacteria to enter your bloodstream,” she adds.
“By looking after your oral health, you can protect yourself against many diseases,” says Dr Okoye.
Removing plaque between your teeth and close to your gum lines is a really important step in preventing gum disease. Brush your teeth using an electric toothbrush to remove plaque from the outer surfaces of your teeth, then use interdental brushes and flossing to remove plaque from between the teeth, suggests Dr Okoye.
“Brushing only cleans 60 per cent of the tooth’s surface, so this is an excellent way of keeping plaque – the cause of gum disease – at bay.”
Visiting your dentist regularly will give them the best chance to monitor your oral health. “If they feel it’s deteriorating and plaque is building up, a simple scale and polish can put you back on the right track, provided you keep up a good routine at home.”
Finally, when you go for a dental appointment, don’t forget to tell your dentist if you’re taking any medications or have had any changes to your overall health, especially if you’ve had recent illnesses or have a chronic condition.
Find out more about the dental plans available to you and your family; or if you’re an employer you might be interested in our corporate dental insurance. If you have a specific question you want answered, why not ask one of our experts?
British Dental Association - www.bda.org/
BDA Smile - www.bdasmile.org/