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Oral hygiene is a crucial aspect that often gets overlooked when it comes to maintaining good health. Yet, it turns out that the health of your mouth, teeth, and gums may have a significant impact on your overall well-being.
You may be wondering, “Can bad oral hygiene cause health problems?” It may. We all know that poor oral hygiene often leads to cavities, pain, and gum disease. But you may not realize it is also associated with a range of severe health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
This article isn’t a substitute for medical or dental care from a qualified physician. We hope the information will empower you to make informed choices affecting your oral and overall health.
The Link Between Oral Health and General Health
The link between oral health and general health seems to start from the very beginning of our lives. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, a mother with gum disease is more likely to deliver a preterm newborn with low birth weight. Birth weight is a strong indicator of newborn health, and being born preterm or with a much lower than average birth weight both indicate higher vulnerability for the new life.
It isn’t just newborns who are affected. The connection shows up throughout one’s life, including later life. European Heart Journal published a study looking at the relationship between oral hygiene habits in adults over 40 and cardiovascular disease. They kept in touch with the subjects for ten years and found those who had regular professional dental cleanings and consistent oral hygiene at home had lower incidents of heart disease.
According to the International Journal of Dentistry, researchers have been exploring the connection between oral health and overall health for decades. While the Nature of this connection isn’t proven, there are correlations between gum health and a range of conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- Other cardiovascular diseases
- Respiratory diseases
- Chronic inflammation
- Complications during pregnancy
- Low birth weight
This isn’t too surprising when you consider that your mouth can be a gateway to your digestive and respiratory systems (and your body as a whole). Poor oral hygiene allows harmful bacteria to build up in the mouth, damaging the teeth and gums. Gum disease leads to inflammation and even infection, which may stress the body and its systems. Another possibility is that some of these harmful bacteria make it into the bloodstream through the bleeding gums and soft tissues.
While some believe the link may be correlation rather than causation, after all, people who take care of their teeth and gums may be more likely to take care of themselves in other ways. However, the steps to maintaining healthy gums are very specific. While it could be that developing healthy habits spread to other aspects of your life, it also makes sense, given how the body operates as a holistic system.
We recommend that everyone develops consistent oral hygiene habits and follows a few other basic practices for overall good health. A healthy lifestyle helps prevent a range of health issues, including gum disease.
We urge you to make changes if you already have bleeding, sore, red, or inflamed gums. While some may find it counter-intuitive, undergoing a professional cleaning and adopting the habit of daily flossing often resolves bleeding and soreness. This is because inflammation arises from harmful bacteria in your mouth that irritate your gums and, over time, damage your teeth. Now is the time to prevent future damage, and your health may benefit as a result.
Simple Steps You Can Take to Benefit Both Your Oral Health and Overall Health
Regardless of whether good oral hygiene habits provides overall health benefits, these habits also help prevent painful cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss and help you look and feel your best. We think it is well worth investing a little time in your smile.
We recommend that you consistently:
- Brush your teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Whether you use an electric toothbrush vs manual toothbrush is up to you.
- Floss your teeth daily to remove bacteria beneath the gum line and between your teeth where your toothbrush can’t reach.
- See your dentist for a professional cleaning and exam as recommended, usually every six months. If your dentist has other recommendations for you, consider them.
- Wear a mouthguard at night if you grind your teeth or during contact sports.
- See a dentist for treatment if you have any dental pain or other issues.
In addition, overall health habits also benefit your oral health in various ways. These non-dental lifestyle choices also impact your oral health:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, limiting sugar and acidic foods and drinks, including wine, coffee, and soda. Some acidic foods are healthy, like tomatoes, but they still damage tooth enamel. Consider rinsing your teeth with water right after you eat them and brushing them 20 minutes later.
- Sip still water during the day to dilute acids in your mouth and to keep you well hydrated.
- Avoid tobacco use and smoking in any form since it damages both your gum health and overall health.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or limit it to light use with timing similar to other acidic foods.
- While the link between diet and tobacco use may seem obvious, don’t overlook the importance of exercise to your overall health as well as your oral health. It turns out that exercise may even benefit gum health by encouraging more optimal blood circulation, according to an article published in Nature.
As mentioned, dental care is essential for good oral health. Not only can your dentist treat cavities and gum disease, but they can also help you learn to take care of your teeth and gums effectively. During your professional cleaning, your dentist or hygienist can remove stubborn tartar and plaque that you can’t safely remove yourself. This helps prevent gum disease and other problems.
If you live in the Charlotte, NC, area and need a dentist, please consider Southview Dentistry. We specialize in preventative health dentistry as well as cosmetic dentistry for people who want a radiant smile. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.