Many people still believe that poor dental care (oral health) can lead to cavities. However, this is completely not the case. The truth is poor oral hygiene can lead to many serious illnesses such as Cardiovascular disease, dementia, respiratory infections and diabetic complications. A healthy mouth doesn’t only ensure proper nutrition to the physical body. It also boosts social interaction and promotes the feeling of well-being.
Not only your mouth is a window to rest of the body but it can provide signals of general health disorders. Such as, aphthous ulcers that commonly occur in the mouth may be the first sign of an HIV infection. Moreover, bone loss in the lower jaw can be a sign of skeletal osteoporosis.
Our oral cavity is filled with millions of bacteria; referred to as the normal flora of the mouth. Any changes in the colonies of these bacteria or the number can have delirious effects on the overall health of the human body. In a compromised immune system such bacteria can cause diseases such as infective endocarditis. Alterations in the salivary flow in patients taking diuretics, antihistamines are known to impact the oral health.
Importance of the oral cavity on the overall health
Due to recent medical advances, saliva can tell a lot about what’s going on in your body. As a practicing dentist for 5 years we’ve used saliva to check cortisol level to test the stress response of a newborn child, that is how much your saliva can tell us about you. To top all that, certain cancer markers can also be easily detected by Saliva.
A healthy mouth is itself an immune system. Saliva is one of the main body’s defense against disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and viruses. Alterations in salivary pH and enzymes make you vulnerable to opportunistic bacteria to attack the mouth and the body for e.g. common proteins such as histatins which inhibit the growth of a fungus called Candida Albicans is abundantly present in Saliva. Any alteration in this protein makes you vulnerable to a fungus infection.
Did you know, as soon as you put food in your mouth the digestion begins? Again saliva has a lot of enzymes that help to break down starch into simple sugar. It is known that 30% of the starch digestion takes place in the oral cavity.
Oral Health and your social life
As dentists, we believe a poor oral hygiene can affect your social life too. Our research suggests that many patients who visit dental clinics or dental hospitals complain that they have bad breath which affects their interaction with friends and colleagues. Gum disease, periodontal disease, and poor oral hygiene are one of the major contributors to halitosis (bad breath). Imagine looking down while talking to someone because you think you have bad breath, the result? Low self-esteem.
Link to oral cavity and other diseases
In other words, heart diseases. It is known for a fact that infection of the gums and periodontal disease of the oral cavity can change the ‘normal flora’ and cause an immense increase in the bacterial overload. This overload of bacteria can easily enter the bloodstream and travel to major arteries of the heart and cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis causes plaque to develop on the inner walls of arteries which thicken them. It reduces the blood flow and predisposes the patient to a heart attack. The inner lining of the heart itself can also get infected by the bacterial ‘overload’ and cause a well-documented condition known as endocarditis.
If you already have diabetes, that makes you more prone to oral infections. It is known that diabetes destroys the immune system day by day. Combining this effect with poor oral hygiene may lead to early bone loss, predispose you to develop cavities, increased risk of gingivitis and periodontitis. If along the years, these symptoms do show up then the only way to get rid of the infection or loose teeth is by an extraction. Opting for an extraction is one tough decision to make because extraction of teeth will not only affect your social life but it will affect what you can and cannot eat resulting in poor nutrition, which again will impact your general health.
Many journals have linked that poor oral hygiene is a common risk factor for lung infections including a disease called pneumonia. Again, the changes in the normal flora of the oral cavity due to improper or no brushing will produce a bacterial overload, inhalation of such hazardous bacteria via the oral cavity will make you prone to chest infections.
Bacteria from gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) may enter the brain through either nerve channels in the head or through the bloodstream.
It is being evaluated by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research that as many as 18 percents of preterm birth, low birth weight babies born in the United States each year may be attributed to Oral Infections. The plausible reason that they proposed for this statistic is that toxins released from bacteria may enter the placenta via the bloodstream of the mother. These toxins have been known to interfere with the growth and development of the baby or the fetus.
Furthermore, they also suggest that these toxins may produce labor-triggering substances at a faster rate. Therefore, triggering premature labor and birth.
How can I protect my oral health?
A good oral hygiene is necessary for a healthy mouth. The following steps will ensure that you keep your oral hygiene to its best:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Using a fluoride toothpaste is recommended.
- Floss daily. A toothbrush can clean your teeth labially (Surface of the tooth towards the cheek/lips) and palatally/lingually (Surface towards the palate/tongue) but the major portion that needs to be cleaned is the space between teeth. Unfortunately, a toothbrush cannot enter this space which causes cavities to develop in between teeth (the Interdental space). That’s why flossing is a must.
- Eat a healthy diet and try to avoid snacks in between meals. During meals, the pH of the mouth is greatly reduced, this causes demineralization of the teeth surfaces. Constantly eating snacks or light meals can cause immense demineralization of teeth.
- Avoid tobacco use.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
Practicing good dental care is important in many ways that you might haven’t thought of before. Not only oral hygiene is necessary to keep your teeth healthy but it is the perfect way to keep yourself physically fit. Most importantly, visit your dentist regularly to check if you’ve developed any cavities. Remember, prevention is always better than intervention.
Dr. Ameerzeb Pirzada
Chief and Consultant dentist at Z Dental Studio
BDS, RDS, C-Implant, Mphil DM