Did you know there’s a link between poor oral health and heart disease, cancer and birth defects?
Brushing your teeth and visiting your dentist could prevent diabetes and Alzheimer’s. And the importance of oral health extends to heart disease, birth defects and even some cancers.
Now that’s a big incentive to take care of your oral health. Who would have thought that looking after your teeth could improve your general health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that oral disease affects nearly 3.5 billion people worldwide. It also states that many of the risk factors for oral disease can be modified. That means people can prevent and fix oral health issues. And given the links to other diseases, the importance of oral health is critical to many areas of our body.
But what health conditions can be linked to poor oral health? And what can you do to reduce the risk of being affected by them?
Oral health and heart health
Did you know that gum disease can also be bad news for your ticker? According to the Heart Foundation, people with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease. And that’s a big deal. Heart disease was the number one cause of all deaths in Australia for the 2021 reference period.
Scientists have established a link between oral health and heart disease. However, they’re quick to point out that more research is needed to establish a direct cause between the two. Current theories suggest the bacteria from infected gums travel to the heart. This bacteria transfer can then result in endocarditis, an infection of your heart lining.
Another theory is our body’s response (immunity) to gum bacteria in the heart can cause inflammation, clots, or sticky blood vessels. This results in cholesterol collection, which then leads to decreased or blocked blood flow.
So not looking after those toothy pegs could do more than just kill your Instagram status.
Oral health and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, was the second leading cause of death in Australia between 2017 and 2021.
A 2021 systematic review collated and analysed a series of scientific papers to see if there was a link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It found that “The literature currently seems to converge towards the affirmation of a link between periodontal diseases and Alzheimer’s disease”.
However, the review also states that more research is needed to confirm the connection between the two.
We have around 700 types of bacteria in our mouths. And one study in the review suggests that one of them may be responsible. This bad boy’s scientific name is Porphyomanas gingivalis. (What a mouthful. And, yes, pun intended.)
P .gingivalis is one of the main culprits for gum disease. A recent study suggests that P. gingivalis can spread to the brain. The infection causes a plaque build-up response (beta-amyloid proteins). The plaque and its by-products can also be toxic and may cause blockages. And these blockages between neurons can interfere with the brain’s connections and messaging.
Oral health and cancer
Chances are cancer has affected you, a loved one or a colleague. And despite all the research, it’s still a terrifying diagnosis.
Scientists identified poor oral health as a risk factor for mouth cancer. They associated gum disease with a 43% increase in oesophageal cancer and a 52% increase in gastric cancer.
But while it’s a widespread disease, could good oral hygiene help prevent some cancers?
Scientists identified poor oral health as a risk factor for mouth cancer. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health linked periodontal disease and some cancers. They associated gum disease with a 43% increase in oesophageal cancer and a 52% increase in gastric cancer. It has also been linked to lung, pancreatic, colorectal, head and neck cancer.
Again, the connections need further research. Science needs to confirm that poor oral health is causing the cancer, and that it wasn’t simply present at the same time. But it’s not worth taking risks when it’s so easy to perfect your oral health routine.
Oral health and birth defects
Poor oral health can affect an unborn baby. Severe gum disease can lead to women giving birth early, resulting in underweight babies.
Premature birth can lead to serious issues for a newborn, including hearing, eyesight and even brain injury.
Better Health Channel suggests that out of every 100 premature births, 18 can be linked to periodontal disease (severe gum disease).
The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care found differing results. They didn’t see a substantial reduction in premature births by treating gum disease during pregnancy. However, there was a reduction (from 9.6% to 1.7%) in children’s teeth decay when a pregnant woman improved her oral health.
Of course, we need to look after the star of this show, the mum-to-be. During pregnancy, some women are more prone to dental problems. Check out this article on caring for your teeth during pregnancy for 10 ways to keep your teeth and gums healthy during pregnancy.
Oral health and diabetes
People with diabetes have a higher incidence of dental problems. Dental issues include infections, low saliva production, tooth decay, poor healing, and even an altered sense of taste. The Australian Dental Association is a leading source of dental information, and provides great tips on preventing and managing complications of diabetes on dental health.
Recent discoveries suggest the link goes both ways. In other words, periodontitis can negatively affect blood sugar regulation. And the effect it has on blood sugar levels can result in higher chances of pre-diabetes and diabetes.
Oral health and diet
Poor oral health can affect your general diet in other ways.:
- Decayed and broken teeth can be very painful. They can stop you from eating altogether, or choosing to eat only certain foods due to their texture. Ultimately, this will affect your nutrition.
- Missing teeth and poor oral care “partly contribute to restricted dietary choices and poor nutritional status of older adults“. It can limit your food choices and prevent you from chewing your food thoroughly, which can in turn hinder the digestive process.
- Sensitivities can stop you enjoying some of the best things in life. We live in Yeppoon and Rockhampton, and so we know some days aren’t complete until you’ve had ice cream. Don’t let sensitivity to cold or hot food ruin your enjoyment of life.
- Inflamed, red and bleeding gums can make you subconsciously skip lunch or even brushing your teeth for fear of doing more damage.
What other conditions link to poor oral health?
The Mayo Clinic includes a number of ailments as possible connections to poor oral health, such as:
Now that you know the importance of oral health, what can you do to reduce the risks?
The good news is you have the power to change things in your hands. Well, provided your hands are holding a toothbrush and some floss.
Regular, effective teeth and gum cleaning creates a healthy mouth. And now you know it can also improve your overall health.
Once those hands have finished brushing and flossing, get them to dial your dentist. Regular dental visits will keep your teeth clean and your gums healthy. They can also diagnose any oral problems early. And your dental team is happy to show you how best to brush and floss.
Want better overall health? Don’t forget the importance of dental health.
Are you in the Yeppoon or Rockhampton area and thinking it’s time for an oral health check? Make an appointment.
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