Okay, be honest… how many of you brush your teeth twice a day? How many of you floss after each meal? We’ve heard about the importance of good oral hygiene since we were little and have been warned about the dangers of choosing to skip out on brushing, but how many of us have carried over those habits into adulthood? Believe it or not, problems that affect your mouth can lead to problems in the rest of your body. Having good brushing and flossing habits achieves the obvious goals of fighting tartar build-up and keeping your breath fresh, but did you know that it also helps to prevent heart disease, strokes, and other chronic health conditions?
Like a lot of areas in the body, our mouths are full of bacteria. With good oral hygiene and our body’s natural defense mechanisms, these bacteria are usually harmless and kept under control. However, when we neglect to brush and floss, we give opportunity for these bacteria to grow and multiply which can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. These bacteria can also travel from your mouth to other areas of your body causing more infections, such as endocarditis, which is an infection on the valves of your heart. Studies have also shown a link between gum disease and other types of heart disease. Bacteria traveling to your heart can cause an increase in plaque build up in your arteries, increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association released a statement in 2012 acknowledging the link between the two and the American Society for Microbiology presented a study at their annual conference linking gum disease in mice with increased inflammation and cholesterol levels.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to other chronic health problems like dementia, kidney disease, and diabetes. Studies have shown that poor gum health can increase your risk of dementia by 30-40%. When bacteria travel from your mouth to your brain, your brain tissue can deteriorate in a similar way to that which occurs in Alzheimer’s. The American Society of Nephrology published a study showing that individuals with normal kidney function and severe periodontal disease were four times more likely to develop chronic kidney disease after about five years. Those individuals who received treatment for their gum disease were able to lower their risk of developing kidney disease. Research has also shown that individuals with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease and they have a harder time controlling their blood sugar. In fact, many people learn they have diabetes for the first time because of being diagnosed with gum disease at their regular dentist appointments.
Even with daily brushing and flossing, there are a lot of factors that can increase your risk for periodontal disease. Certain medications that cause dry mouth can increase your risk of gum disease since saliva helps wash out the bacteria in our mouths. Health conditions that decrease your immunity, like HIV or leukemia, can also increase your risk of oral infections. Genetics, older age, smoking, and other substance abuse also affect the health of your mouth.
Good oral hygiene can help keep your mouth, and the rest of your body, functioning at its best. The early signs of periodontal disease are most often silent, with pain and visible symptoms such as redness not appearing until the disease has progressed. Here are some ways you can make sure you’re doing everything to keep your mouth fresh and clean:
1. Brush your teeth at least twice a day
2. Floss at least daily
3. Replace your tooth brush every 3 months, or sooner if you notice the bristles are becoming frayed
4. Visit your dentist every 6 months for regular check-ups and cleanings
5. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water
6. Avoid tobacco products and smoking
Remember that everything in our body is connected. Contact your dentist at the first sign of any problems. By taking the time to perform good oral hygiene daily, you not only make sure that your breath is fresh, but you keep the rest of your body healthy too!