The Connection Between Oral Hygiene and Overall Health

One of the first fears that children develop is of going to the dentist. With age, that fear transforms into the dread of making the trip, having someone poke the insides of your mouth and figuring out if the occasionally mediocre work you do on your teeth was good enough to avoid getting a cavity. But would oral hygiene become more of a priority if you knew it could affect other parts of the body? It’s true, your mouth isn’t necessarily the only thing that suffers from lack of good oral hygiene.

With so much traffic coming into the mouth, it’s normal for bacteria to catch a ride with it. And like any other platform that receives a lot of traffic, upkeep is essential. Luckily, most of this bacteria is harmless and is kept in check by the body’s natural defenses along with flossing and brushing. But when good oral hygiene practices are neglected, that bacteria is capable of causing deeper problems. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease or gingivitis, is one of the main issues people wish to avoid. Aside from the uncomfortable symptoms of gum disease, like bad breath and tooth loss, it can also be a contributor to more serious health concerns.

“Bacteria allowed to proliferate in an unhealthy mouth can affect digestion, elimination, vessel-wall health and, most importantly, coronary artery health,” says Douglas Marinak, D.D.S. of Marinak & Glossner, D.D.S., P.C.

Though cause-and-effect has been hard to prove in regards to oral health and heart disease, some scientists think there is a connection. The American Dental Association stated that periodontal infections are found more frequently in people with cardiovascular diseases. And according to the American Academy of Periodontology, “Scientists believe that inflammation caused by periodontal disease may be responsible for the association.” It’s the inflammation of the blood vessels in particular that could increase the risk of stroke or heart disease.

When bacteria successfully takes over the gums, it becomes a risk to other areas of the body by way of blood. Depending on the severity of the gum disease, increased blood sugar can be a symptom. This could become a problem for those suffering from diabetes and can increase the risk for diabetes-related complications. People with diabetes are also at a greater risk for gum disease due to a lower ability to fight the bacteria attempting to penetrate the gums.

People already suffering from health problems aren’t the only ones at risk when it comes to oral health though.

“Bacteria from your mouth normally does not enter your bloodstream,” says Mark J. Kearns, D.D.S., M.S. of Minium, Kearns and Lamb Orthodontists. “However, in the presence of uncontrolled gum disease, bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body.”

The type of bacteria that penetrates the bloodstream is the same bacteria that causes inflammation in the gums.

One way to keep gum disease at bay is to be aware of your saliva production. The body creates around two to four pints of saliva a day, which helps to create a flow in the mouth that neutralizes bacteria by washing it away along with leftover food particles. If the mouth is lacking in saliva production, conditions like dry mouth can occur and produce symptoms like tooth decay and dryness in the mouth or throat. This creates more opportunity for bacteria to stay planted on teeth and around the gums. Breathing through your nose, drinking lots of water and chewing sugar-free gum are a few ways to retain saliva.

The importance of keeping as clean a mouth as possible is apparent given all the ways it can affect the rest of the body. And with just a little more to worry about, the tables may turn, and you could be the one telling the dentist, “You missed a spot.”