Think it’s all about shiny teeth and good breath? Beyond your teeth and gums, good oral care has some surprising benefits for your overall health.
“It’s well established that there is a strong link between oral health and general health,” says East St Kilda dentist Rita Trakhtman. “Your mouth is a gateway to your body, so it just makes sense to take care of your oral health.” Apart from getting to keep your teeth, here are 8 surprising reasons why oral care matters for a healthy body.
1. Help your heart
Studies link unhealthy gums with increased heart disease risk. This is thought to be because gum disease increases the inflammation throughout your body.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with bleeding gums and bone loss around teeth are at greater risk of heart disease and have twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack than people without gum disease.
Your dentist should ask you about your heart health and family history of heart disease and conversely, cardiologists should examine your oral health. A problem in one area may signal trouble in the other.
2. Ease your breathing
Not only can horrid bacteria harbour in your mouth and enter into your bloodstream to slowly deteriorate your vital organs, there is another mechanism by which they can be swept deeper into your body…inhalation. As soon as those fine droplets from your mouth seep into your lungs they can easily start causing problems that can lead to lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.
For those who have pre-existing lung problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (most commonly found in smokers), gum disease may make it worse.
3. Protect your pregnancy and baby
Frequent dental visits become even more critical during pregnancy. Due to hormonal changes, pregnant women are more prone to gum disease and bacterial growth in the mouth. As bad as it is to have your own body attacked by bacteria, if you are an expectant mother, there is another body that you should be concerned about. The bacterial infection can actually be passed to your child and cause problems with delivery.
The Australian Dental Association and American Academy of Periodontology report that pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, deliver pre-term or have a low-birth-weight baby.
Antibodies to the bacterial infection in the mother have been found in the umbilical cord and placental blood of the baby after delivery. Not only does this mean complications at birth, but it can lead to numerous other issues as well.
Babies born pre-term or with a low birth weight have a higher risk of complications; such as: developmental problems, asthma, ear infections, birth abnormalities, behavioural difficulties and may have a higher risk of infant death. Women who are pregnant should take extra care to keep their teeth at their best, not just for themselves, but for their babies too.
4. Control your blood sugar levels
While it’s known that people with diabetes are more prone to gum disease, studies show that serious gum disease may actually contribute to diabetes as it affects blood glucose control. But the good news is that getting your gum disease under control can actually help control your diabetes. Backed up by The Australian Diabetes Association, gum disease and diabetes is a two-way link. It’s certainly a wake-up call to take care of your teeth, especially since the incidence of diabetes is rising.
5. Protect your brain
Poor gum health increases your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by almost 30% to 40%. Gum disease also increases your risk stroke.
People with gum disease are 8 times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Apparently the bacteria from your gums produces proteins that induce a reaction from your immune system which at the end of the day leads to some serious joint issues.
7. Detect oral cancer before you have symptoms
As part of regular checkups, dentists check all soft tissues to ensure they are healthy. Smokers and those with a family history of cancer are at highest risk.
Says expert Dr. Trakhtman: “All dentists are trained to do oral cancer screening. We inspect the gums, tongue, lips and cheeks for any unusual findings. This can be potentially lifesaving if detected early.” Only about one-half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years, so detecting early signs of the disease is crucial.
8. Weight loss
Trying to lose weight? Here’s a secret trick: Brushing your teeth signals mealtime is over and may help with portion control. Use this trick to your advantage – have a healthy meal and then, before you are tempted to snack or get into some sweets, stop and brush your teeth. Mint is a natural apatite suppressor as not much tastes good right after brushing with minty toothpaste. Don’t wait until bedtime to brush, try brushing early in the evening to thwart late-night snack cravings.This will tell your appetite that you have finished eating.
Not convinced yet? We may discover even more links between our mouth health and other health conditions in our body in the future. Watch this space…
Oral care tips
So, now that you are sufficiently petrified of the bacteria living in your mouth, how can all of these things be prevented?
- EAT HEALTHY. The absolute number 1 rule is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. What you eat is far more important than if you brush. By consuming lots of fiber you are not only contributing to the overall health of your body, but you are also stimulating the flow of saliva in your mouth which helps to remineralize your teeth when they start to decay.
- TAKE YOUR TIME. Studies have suggested that people, on average, spend about 1 minute brushing their teeth. This generally removes only about 60% of the plaque. We know, however, that because you are not an average person, you always brush for two minutes thereby removing 120% of the plaque (just kidding we know that’s not possible). But seriously, stick it out.
- USE THE POWER. Use an electric toothbrush rather than a manual one. A powered toothbrush will always clean better than a manual. If you love your manual toothbrush too much, always use a soft-bristled brush. Hard or medium bristles are too abrasive to the gums and can cause them to recede.
- FLOSS. Brushing without flossing is like mopping the parts of the floor that are exposed and leaving all the nooks and crannies dirty. Sure, it will save you some time, but in the end the floor isn’t clean. Although your brush can clean the exposed surfaces of your teeth, much of the plaque hides between them.
- BE REGULAR. Be sure to schedule regular dental check-ups. An oral health professional can see things you can’t.
- KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. Try to keep stress under control. Stress increases the risk of infection, including infection of the gums. Try meditation, yoga, pilates, cardio, or any other form of exercise to keep your mind in check.
- DON’T GRIND. Avoid tooth grinding or clenching. This bad habit can wear out your gum tissue at a faster rate. See your dentist about how you can manage your grinding with a customised nighttime guard.
- GET OFF THE SMOKES. If you smoke, stop. Smokers have a higher risk of getting wobbly teeth that will eventually fall out, getting mouth cancer, and getting painful gum disease. If you have quit smoking, then a massive congratulations to you Sir/ Madam!
“A healthy diet combined with good oral care is the number-one rule,” says Dr. Trakhtman.
References: Best Health, Australian Dental Association, Diabetes Australia, The Australian Diabetes Association.