Researchers are becoming more convinced of how oral health plays a role in our overall health. Poor oral health is being associated with poorly controlled diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, preterm birth and other health issues. It’s been suspected that this happens because compromised gums (e.g. gingivitis, periodontal disease) make disease-causing bacteria enter our bloodstream. Although the immune system can fight off the bacteria, those with a compromised immune system might acquire a disease or make an existing health condition worse.
For example, chronic gum disease and the resulting infection might cause insulin resistance (thereby making diabetes more difficult to control). This disrupted blood sugar control could then make diabetes-linked complications worse. It’s a similar case with cardiovascular diseases (see Periodontal Disease and Cardiovascular Disease published in the Journal of Periodontology). The difference is that poor oral health and gum disease may become the starting points for clogged arteries (i.e. atherosclerotic plaques develop). The plaques then increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Our oral health tells a lot about our overall health
Aside from the association between oral health and overall health (diabetes, cardiovascular disease), the state of our oral health also tells several things about our overall lifestyle and wellbeing.
For instance, tooth loss (Australians aged 15 and over have an average of 12.8 decayed, missing or filled teeth, source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) might be traced back to consuming high-sugar foods and drinks. Our cells become resistant or insensitive to insulin as a result of spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead of the drip by drip entry of glucose into our blood, it becomes a sudden heavy downpour which puts extra work to our cells and pancreas. The result is diabetes and as mentioned earlier, diabetes control can become more difficult because of gum infection.
Poor oral health brings with it health problems related to diet and lifestyle. For example, smoking can increase the risk of having periodontal disease. More alarming is that smoking (approximately 1 in 7 Australians aged 15 years and over smoke daily, source: The Heart Foundation) can increase the risk of getting oral and throat cancers. In other words, when a person has periodontal disease, it’s also possible that he/she has other diseases that may or may not be directly linked with poor oral hygiene.
On the other hand, excellent oral health (as a result of regular brushing and flossing, visiting the dentist once every 6 months and having a prompt oral check-up when oral issues arise) may reflect our overall health. Someone who regularly brushes his/her teeth could be more likely to take care of his/her body. People who still have a complete set of teeth in their 30s and 40s might have eaten a lot less sugar through the years. It’s also possible that having excellent oral health comes with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In other words, people who truly care for their health and future make sure that every aspect of their health (dental health, mental and emotional states, career and social status, relationships) receives enough attention.
Motivation to take care of your teeth and gums
We mentioned earlier that gum disease and infection may result in systemic diseases or make those diseases much more difficult to handle. These systemic diseases affect the entire body instead of a single organ. As a result, the doctor prescribes several different medications to deal with different health issues. For example, aside from high blood sugar levels, many diabetic patients also have high levels of cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. The doctor would then prescribe at least three different medications to deal with those problems one by one.
The consequences could cascade and accumulate and those consequences might be traced partly to poor oral health. After all, the mouth is the gateway to our digestive and respiratory functions. It even is our first line of defence against infections which is why if the mouth is compromised in the first place, our overall health becomes at risk.
Those who are serious about their health and fitness also pay attention to the health of their teeth and gums. It’s a full system where if a single component is neglected, the entire system fails. This is similar to maintaining the correct tyre pressure because aside from the tyre themselves, the correct pressure also has something to do with safety, vehicle handling and even fuel efficiency. When it comes to our overall well being, our teeth not just enable us to eat properly. Our teeth also affect our cardiovascular health and our overall fitness. The excellent health of our teeth and gums might even also affect our professional or business success because of that extra confidence whenever we smile and face other people.
If you want to improve your oral health, the first step here is to see a dentist. This way he/she will immediately see the problems and design a course of action to solve those problems and/or stop the complications. For example, the dentist might notice that you have bright red or purple gums and in addition those gums are painful to the touch. These are common signs and symptoms of gingivitis which needs to be treated right away to avoid worse infections and costlier procedures. Prompt treatment of gingivitis (may require at least 2 weeks for signs and symptoms to fully go away) will prevent progress of the mild gum disease into a severe one (periodontal disease). There are cases when a surgical intervention is required to treat advanced forms of periodontal disease.
Indeed, it’s important to take care of our oral health not just for our teeth and gums but also for our overall well being. The cost of neglecting our dental health is too high if we look at the potential complications and procedures required (plus the inconveniences and financial costs). Good thing is that the cost of taking care of our oral health is a lot lower and will prove to be a worthy investment in the long term.