Taking care of oral hygiene to prevent oral health problems can go a long way towards decreasing the risk for more serious health problems
Do you know the reason why we were taught to brush our teeth every morning, every night? Well, because good oral hygiene is the key to overall health and well-being because poor oral care can lead to health problems. Brushing teeth twice is just being wise to keep bacteria and cavities at bay, and stay healthy. And mind you, oral health is so much more than just the health of the mouth, teeth, and gums.
“The mouth is a primary entryway into the body; poor oral health can have negative consequences for the entire body. Teeth that ache, gums that bleed, and breath that smells bad are all indicators of poor oral health. Bacteria from the mouth can easily get into the bloodstream and cause infection and inflammation wherever it spreads,” explains Dr Bhumika Madan, Consultant, Dental, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi. So, if one doesn’t take proper care of one’s teeth, one could face far more serious consequences than a simple toothache or bleeding gums, she warns.
Ignorance isn’t bliss
Oral and dental health is one of the most neglected and overlooked aspects of general well-being because poor oral hygiene primarily affects morbidity rather than mortality. But it’s taken as a form of ‘silent epidemic’ which needs to be attended to on a priority basis. “The relationship between oral and general health has been increasingly recognised during the past two decades. Oral infections are potential contributing factors to a variety of clinically important systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, bacterial pneumonia, neurologic stroke, diabetes mellitus, low birth weights and oral cancers,” says Dr Sona Bhatia, Consultant Dental Surgeon, Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, Mumbai.
The foci of infection are usually in the periodontal tissue or infected tooth which spreads through the bloodstream. These microbial toxins cause tissue trauma depending on the host’s susceptibility.
Heart of the matter
Poor oral health puts a person at risk for heart disease. If the gums are inflamed due to bacteria that cause periodontal disease, same bacteria can actually get into the bloodstream causing the arteries to build up plaque and harden. “This hardening of the arteries is called atherosclerosis, and it is severe. It leads to blood flow problems and heart blockages, and it increases the likelihood of having a heart attack. The damaging impact on the arteries and blood vessels can lead to hypertension and increase the risk for strokes. Endocarditis can also develop, which is an often fatal condition that occurs when the lining of the heart becomes infected,” says Dr Madan.
Even the respiratory system can suffer as a result of poor oral health. Poor oral hygiene inflamed infected gums increases the plaque load resulting in increased colonisation of pathogenic bacteria. Some studies suggest that an important association exist between poor periodontal status and aspiration pneumonia. “Pneumonia is the infection of the lung tissues. It may be due to bacteria, fungus and viruses. Certain bacteria can colonize in the oral cavity and be aspirated into the lower airways and cause pneumonia. It is usually in cases of diabetic patients,” says Dr Bhatia.
And not just the heart and lungs, but poor oral health can also affect the brain. Substances that are released from gums inflamed by infection can kill brain cells and lead to memory loss. “Dementia and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease can result from gingivitis when the bacteria in the mouth spread to the nerve channels or enters the bloodstream, adds Dr Madan.
Moms-to-be stay alert
It is imperative for expectant mothers to practice good oral hygiene. Pregnancy and oral contraception pills can influence gingival health. “Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy can lead to pregnancy gingivitis and increase dental plaque levels,” says Dr Bhatia. Any infection in the mother’s body increases her risk of experiencing pregnancy complications. Oral health problems in the mother such as periodontitis and gingivitis have been known to lead to premature birth and low birth weight in infants. There are numerous studies which conclude that women who have low birth weight pre-term infants tend to have severe periodontal infections than mothers with normal birth weight infants.
The severe periodontal disease often co-exists with severe diabetes mellitus. “There is a possibility that periodontal disease either predispose or exacerbates the diabetic condition. Diabetes mellitus and periodontal disease or infection have a two-way relationship,” adds Dr Bhatia. Last but not the least, good oral hygiene essential to prevent oral cancers.
To conclude, the body and mouth are not separate. “Your body can affect your mouth, and likewise, your mouth can affect your body,” quips Dr Bhatia.
Oral health is an indicator of overall health. Healthy teeth are clean and free of pain caused by cavities and disease while healthy gums are pink and do not bleed when brushed or flossed. Taking care of oral hygiene to prevent oral health problems like gingivitis and periodontal disease can go a long way toward decreasing the risk for more serious health problems in the body. Brushing teeth and gums for two minutes at least twice a day, flossing once daily and going for regular dental cleaning and check-up. These two good habits will go a long way in keeping ones’ pearly whites healthy.
Doing away with smoking and chewing tobacco products will prevent staining of teeth and will also keep oral cancer at bay. “Avoiding tobacco and tobacco products and going for regular dental evaluation can help prevent oral cancers and detect them early,” says Dr Bhatia.
Dr Madan also advises the use of toothpaste and mouthwash products that contain fluoride. The other two steps that are easy to follow for good dental health include keeping an eye on the consumption of sugary foods and drinks and eating a well-balanced diet for optimum nutrition. It is essential to practice good oral hygiene and to see a dentist regularly to avoid serious risk to the body’s overall health.