Since a young age, we have been taught in health class the importance of taking care of our own bodies, but what you may still not know is how your oral health affects your overall health. This is a connection that researchers have been studying for decades, with many studies showing a strong link between a person’s oral health and the bigger picture.
Having good dental health is not just something professional Houston dentists advocate for because it is their business. The status of our oral health enables us to participate in daily activities such as eating, smiling, and even talking. Without proper oral hygiene, people are at risk of a host of ailments, including losing teeth, which may impact how a person looks as well as how effectively they are able to communicate with others.
This is enough reason for you to reconsider how you care for your teeth, but how your oral health affects your overall health should provide more evidence of its importance. Everything from how you care for your teeth on a daily basis to what kind of medications you take to how often you receive professional teeth cleanings can all play a primary role in how your oral health affects your overall health.
How Your Oral Health Affects Your Overall Health
In some ways the mouth acts as a gateway to the body because we use it to both eat and breathe. But as a main entry point to the body, the mouth can also be home to an estimated six million bacteria, not all of which is good.
On average, most people who practice good hygiene that includes daily brushing and flossing, as well as professional teeth cleanings every six months, are able to keep their dental health in good shape. It is typically when good oral hygiene is not part of a person’s daily routine that bad bacteria can multiply and tooth decay and gum disease can begin to take place and become a problem.
A cavity can be a concrete example of how your oral health affects your overall health. For example, a person who has a cavity that goes untreated could experience such high levels of pain that it might lead to a disinterest in eating and a decrease in focus and concentration.
An individual who is missing teeth due to a serious issue with their dental health may be less likely to include some hard to eat foods in their diet, such as apples or nuts, which can affect the nutritional content of their diet and possibly put them at risk of developing a minor vitamin deficiency.
Researchers are realizing that the degradation of oral health is dangerous to more than a person’s teeth. Many are finding that poor dental health may be related to a number of other conditions, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease. While research continues in this area, increasingly researchers believe that some oral bacteria may contribute to serious cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart disease, and clogged arteries. The American Academy of Periodontology estimates that individuals with gum disease could be twice as likely to have heart disease.
- Endocarditis. Oral bacteria that somehow makes its way into an individual’s bloodstream may in turn be able to find its way to the heart. When this happens it could possibly result in endocarditis, a condition that involves the inner lining of the heart valves or chambers becoming infected and enlarged.
- Respiratory disease. Because the mouth is closely connected to the respiratory tract, it is not uncommon for bacteria to occasionally make its way from there to the lungs. This could be responsible for people contracting a number of respiratory diseases, including pneumonia.
Studies are still underway that explore how some diseases may impact dental health. At the top of the list are diabetes, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Diabetes can weaken the immune system which may put the gums at risk of infection and lead to gingivitis and eventually periodontitis. Osteoporosis, or the weakening of bone strength, can open up the jawbone to damage or deterioration which might leave teeth without a solid foundation. While the link between Alzheimer’s and dental health is still being evaluated, it does appear that patients with the disease tend to suffer worsening oral health.
Whether it is a disease that could potentially impact your dental health or vice versa, it is critical for you as a patient to understand how your oral health affects your overall health. Your life could depend on it.
Things That Can Affect Your Oral Health
The main thing that can negatively affect a person’s oral health is their lack of commitment to practicing proper dental hygiene. In reality, this should be a protective measure that is well within most people’s reach, making it an effective way to hold many dental issues at bay.
Even the types of medication a person takes can have an impact on their oral health. Commonly used medications such as antihistamines and decongestants can decrease the flow of saliva which in turn keeps three main functions from happening:
- Food to be washed away by saliva
- Acids to be neutralized by oral bacteria
- Protection from microbes multiplying
If you have not always been on top of taking care of your teeth and oral health, it is not too late to start. As you get ready to practice good hygiene with the intention of better safeguarding your oral health, pause to take inventory of any of the following that you may currently be experiencing:
- Persistent bad breath
- Broken teeth
- Dry mouth
- Irritated, puffy, or bleeding gums
- Loose or missing teeth
- Mouth sores
- Tooth sensitivity to temperature changes (cold or hot food and drinks)
Suffering from one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that your dental or overall health is in danger, but it is wise to make an appointment with a licensed Houston dentist to see if any of the conditions you are experiencing could be more serious.
How to Practice Good Hygiene for Improved Oral Health
When it comes to diseases that can be caused by poor oral health, there are steps people can take to practice more effective dental hygiene.
Most of us have heard, sometimes repeatedly, how important it is to brush your teeth twice a day. What you may not know is that how long you brush and what type of toothbrush can make a difference. Most professionals recommend brushing your teeth for a couple of minutes or more with an appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste. Do not forget to replace your toothbrush if it becomes worn or if you have been sick. In general a toothbrush should be replaced every three months or so.
While brushing can help eliminate bacteria and plaque on the teeth, flossing in between the teeth is effective for getting at bacteria and plaque between the teeth. Most people should make a point to properly floss their teeth at least once a day.
Daily brushing and flossing help keep teeth clean, but it is recommended that most people still have their teeth professionally cleaned by a dental professional every six months. This not only allows a patient to have their teeth more thoroughly cleaned, but it also gives dentists the opportunity to compare an individual’s oral health from the last appointment. X-rays and certain screenings may be performed to help better evaluate a patient’s health and protect against future dental issues.
Practicing healthy lifestyle habits can significantly impact a person’s dental health as well. From not smoking or using tobacco products to focusing on consuming low-sugar foods and drinks, practices like these can help keep the mouth healthier. Collectively, these steps can affect your overall health.
If you have questions about how your oral health affects your overall health or if you suspect that you may already be suffering from an issue, do not delay in setting up an appointment with a licensed professional Houston dentist. The action you take today may do more than give you the confidence to smile—it just might save your life.