How is oral health linked to overall health?

It’s no secret how important oral health is, but is dental hygiene linked to your overall wellbeing? In this article, we establish whether your teeth can have an effect on the rest of your health, and what you can do to ensure you stay healthy.

Does oral hygiene affect overall health?

In short, yes. Your oral hygiene can have an impact on your overall health and wellbeing – but how?

Your mouth is home to bacteria. In fact, there can be up to six million bacteria in the average person’s mouth. For the most part, this bacteria is harmless, or it’s well-controlled by the body’s natural defences.

Your mouth is also the primary entry point to the rest of your body – the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. Maintaining good oral hygiene habits keeps bacteria under control. You should brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, twice a day, and you should floss using a tool like the DenTek Easy Brush which uses a comfort wire design that bends to access those hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.

However, if you’re not staying on top of your dental regime, a build-up of bacteria can lead to issues such as oral infections, tooth decay and gum disease. In turn, this bacteria can multiply, enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body, potentially leading to a number of further health problems[1].

Can bad teeth cause ill health?

It’s suggested that oral bacteria can contribute to a range of serious health conditions.
For example, it can lead to endocarditis – an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers or valves. This can happen when bacteria from another part of the body (including the mouth) spread through the bloodstream and attach to areas of the heart.

Poor oral hygiene can also cause respiratory infections. When bacteria from infected teeth and gums are pulled into the body, this can lead to infections in the lungs – such as pneumonia[2].

There are also links between poor dental health and problems in pregnancy. Periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, is thought to cause birth complications, as well as premature births and low birth weights in newborn babies[3].

Can dental problems cause heart problems?

Although it’s not fully understood yet, research suggests there is a connection between dental problems and heart problems. It’s thought that poor oral hygiene is linked to heart disease, strokes and clogged arteries.

There are a number of different theories that attempt to explain the link between dental problems and heart issues. For example, it’s believed that when the infected bacteria responsible for causing gum disease travels to blood vessels elsewhere in the body, it can cause blood vessel inflammation and damage. As a result, this can lead to blood clots, heart attacks and even strokes[2].

Can dental issues be caused by other areas of health?

While most dental issues are typically the result of a poor oral health regime, there are a number of other ways your health could be affecting your dental wellbeing.

For instance, the amount of sugar you eat or drink can have a huge impact on your oral health, leading to problems such as tooth decay. Making a conscious effort to reduce your sugar intake will lower your chances of developing dental issues, as well as a whole host of other health problems. You could try swapping fizzy drinks with a high sugar content for similar, sugar-free versions, as well as ditching sugary snacks for healthier alternatives.

Did you know that smoking can affect your oral health? Not only can smoking stain your teeth, it can also cause a build-up of plaque which can lead to gum disease and potentially tooth loss, and, in more severe instances, mouth cancer. Giving up smoking will not only improve your dental health, but your overall physical wellbeing.

Alcohol can be to blame for a number of dental problems too. There are many alcoholic beverages that tend to be very acidic, such as beer, cider and white wine. This can lead to the erosion of the tooth enamel, causing pain and sensitivity. Some spirits, like whiskey and vodka, are known for causing dry mouth, while some alcoholic drinks, including mixers and alcopops, are known for being high in sugar which can cause dental decay.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle, along with maintaining a good oral hygiene routine, can significantly help reduce your chances of developing dental problems, as well as a number of other health issues[1].

Resources: 

[1] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-teeth-and-gums/how-to-keep-your-teeth-clean/

[2] https://www.who.int/health-topics/oral-health#tab=tab_2

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/bleeding-gums/

Neil Kotak
21/7/2023
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