Did you know that as well as keeping up our oral hygiene and the overall appearance of our teeth, keeping our teeth and gums in good condition also protects our general health?
Oral health is essential to general health and well-being at every stage of life. The mouth serves as a window to the rest of the body, providing signals of general health disorders.
We often think that the main consequences of neglecting our teeth are:
- Receding gums
- Bad breath
However, our oral health is linked in many ways to our overall wellbeing.
Studies have shown that bacteria from oral infection, especially gum disease – may affect the course of a number of chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2016 study indicated a connection between periodontitis (gum disease) and heart disease – while links between gum disease and stroke, diabetes, and complications during pregnancy are well researched.
Oral problems & causes
- If you have bleeding gums, it can be a symptom of a nutritional problem – particularly vitamin C deficiency
- Dryness and cracking at the corners of the mouth may be a result of insufficient levels of vitamin B2
- A raw, red mouth can indicate stress
- A smooth, reddish tongue may signal anaemia or a poor diet
3 key supplements for a healthy mouth
- Coenzyme Q10 - provides cells with the energy they need for healing and gum growth
- Vitamin C with bioflavonoids - promotes healing in bleeding gums and slows the growth of plaque
- Vitamin A in emulsion form - promotes healing of gum tissue
Bacteria & related health issues
Like other areas of the body, your mouth contains bacteria. These bacteria are mostly harmless but because your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, some of these bacteria can cause disease.
What conditions can be caused by poor oral health?
Your oral health can contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
- Endocarditis -an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves. This typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart
- Cardiovascular disease - some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause
- Pregnancy and birth complications –Gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight
- Pneumonia - certain bacteria in the mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases
What conditions can affect your oral health?
- Diabetes -by reducing the body's resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes
- HIV/AIDS - Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS
- Osteoporosis - This bone-weakening disease is linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw
- Alzheimer's disease - Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer's disease progresses
- Coeliac or Crohn’s disease - aphthous ulcers can occasionally be a manifestation of Coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease
- Blood disorders - pale and bleeding gums can be a marker for blood disorders
- Eating disorders - changes in tooth appearance can indicate bulimia or anorexia
Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include; rheumatoid arthritis; certain cancers; and an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth, known as Sjogren's syndrome.
How can I protect my oral health?
To protect your oral health, it is important to practice good oral hygiene daily.
- Brush your teeth at least twice daily using a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily
- Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing
- Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn
- Schedule regular dental check-ups and cleanings
- Avoid tobacco use
- Contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises
What are the common risk factors for oral health problems?
Oral disease is the most widespread chronic disease, despite being highly preventable. The common risk factors that oral disease shares with other chronic diseases or conditions are:
Having a poor diet – whether under-nutrition or over-nutrition is the issue - is a risk factor for tooth decay (high consumption of sugary food/drinks), coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers, anaemia, osteoporosis and obesity.
Studies also show that eating more fruits and vegetables can have a protective influence against cancers and systemic inflammatory (including gum) diseases.
- Tobacco smoking/chewing
Smoking or chewing tobacco is a risk factor for oral cancer and other cancers, gum disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and diabetes.
- Alcohol consumption
This is a risk factor for oral cancer and other cancers, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis and trauma
This is a risk factor for gum disease and other bacterial and inflammatory conditions
Injuries are a risk factor for trauma – including dental trauma
Stress and control issues are risk factors for gum disease and cardiovascular disease
If you are worried about how to care for your baby's teeth, check out our article here.