By Dr. Sheri Salartash
Most people get that poor dental care can lead to cavities, plaque, gingivitis and halitosis. What many are discovering is the link to more serious health problems resulting from poor oral care. The science is in: If you don’t take care of your teeth, you face far more serious consequences than a simple toothache or some unsightly stains.
Multiple peer-reviewed studies and respected organizations such as the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Dental Association highlight some areas of concern:
In a nutshell, this means heart disease. The bacteria from inflammation of the gums and periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart and cause atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis causes plaque to develop on the inner walls of arteries. This decreases blood flow through the body, which can cause an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. The inner lining of the heart can also become infected and inflamed, a condition known as endocarditis.
The bacteria from gingivitis may enter the brain through nerve channels in the head or through the bloodstream, which could lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The “Journal of Periodontology” warns that gum disease could cause infections in the lungs, including pneumonia. While the connection might not be completely obvious at first, this is a result of inhaling bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period of time.
Inflammation of the gum tissue and periodontal disease can make it harder to control your blood sugar and make your diabetes symptoms worse. Diabetes sufferers are also more susceptible to periodontal disease, making proper dental care even more important for those with this disease.
Brushing and flossing keep more than your pearly whites healthy – they also could help prevent serious illnesses. Poor dental care is also a possible factor in other conditions, such as immune system disorders, weak bones, problems with pregnancy and low birth weight.
As the inflammation from pathogens or periodontal disease damages the tiny blood vessels in your gums, oral bacteria are allowed to enter your bloodstream. Although the body has many systems in place to manage these bugs, some harmful species have been associated with a number of diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, Alzheimer’s disease and even depression.
Other health problems happening in the body can influence oral health as well. People with diabetes, for example, are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without it, likely because they’re more susceptible to contracting infections overall, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
Practicing proper dental care and taking care of issues in the mouth is critical to maintaining overall health. The mouth is not a detached system of the body. Oral bacteria is frequently found in parts of the body that have other problems. As oral bacteria enters the bloodstream, it can travel to organs throughout the body, including the brain, heart, lungs and more.
Encourage your family to practice good oral hygiene by brushing after every meal with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily and using a mouth rinse to kill bacteria. You should also visit a dental professional regularly for cleanings and the prevention and treatment of cavities. Remember, people who keep their teeth live longer.
The writer is a dentist at Dental Excellence Integrative Center in Alexandria.