Your oral health is more important than you might realise. Did you know the health of your mouth, teeth and gums can affect your general health? Oral health means the health of your mouth, no matter your age, and it is vital to your general health and well-being.
According to Dr Lesline Davis, dental surgeon, oral health is multifaceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain, discomfort and disease of the head, face, and oral cavity.
“A healthy mouth is important. Our teeth have such an important role to play in our lives. They help us to chew and digest food, they help us to talk and speak clearly, and they also give our face its shape. A smile also has other benefits as well. It can give us greater confidence, as well as influence our social lives, careers and relationships,” Davis said.
Good oral health and hygiene begin with clean teeth, proper dental-care habits, and awareness of daily behaviours. Brushing and flossing properly from a young age helps prevent oral disease such as cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer as you age. Nutrition, regular teeth cleanings, and your medical history also impact your oral health standing.
According to Davis, there are many benefits of good oral health, including improved self-esteem and a better quality of life.
“While practising good oral hygiene obviously benefits your teeth and your gums, it doesn’t just stop there. Practising good oral hygiene has a number of health advantages, benefiting your entire body and the overall state of your health,” Davis said.
Some of the benefits of good oral hygiene, she said, include reduced risk of gum disease. Those who do not brush their teeth and floss on a regular basis are susceptible to conditions such as gingivitis and periodontitis. Over time, these diseases can cause bleeding, swelling, bad breath, tooth loss, and other problems.
Another benefit of good oral hygiene is a reduced risk of tooth decay. Those who eat sugary foods and forgo brushing and flossing will often develop cavities, and in the long run might even start to lose teeth.
What you might not realise is that oral health may have an impact on your cardiovascular health as well. While studies are still inconclusive, they show that there is a relationship between the two. Research shows that those with significant dental issues suffer more heart attacks and strokes than those without.
There is also a fairly well-known link between poor oral health and diabetes, and that is gum disease. As gum disease arises, it causes blood sugar levels in the body to increase. One indicator of diabetes is having too much sugar in the blood, so the connection is fairly clear.
Several studies have shown a connection between lung disease and bad oral health. As the gums become inflamed, and as bad bacteria arise, it can travel to the lungs. These bacteria can remain within the lungs, and can eventually cause an infection. In addition to respiratory infections, bad oral hygiene can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis as well. These are serious and painful conditions.
One last medical condition that has been linked to bad oral hygiene is Alzheimer’s disease. When the gums are neglected, they can become inflamed. When this inflammation occurs, chemicals can be released from the gums and can travel to the brain.
Faced with prolonged exposure to these chemicals, certain parts of the brain can start to deteriorate. Over time, this may result in memory loss. While brushing and flossing won’t entirely eliminate the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s, they can help.
“Problems in your mouth can have a negative effect on your body. Bacteria usually live in your mouth. No problems exist when there is a healthy balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria. If oral hygiene is inadequate, there is an increase in bad bacteria and this leads to dental caries (cavities) and periodontal (gum) disease,” Davis said.
Studies, she said, suggest that one in two adults will develop some form of gum disease, and for 20 per cent of adults 35 to 44 years, the gum disease is severe. Tooth decay in children is more common than asthma or the common cold, and between 60 and 90 per cent of schoolchildren have at least one cavity.
“Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health. Your dentist or dental hygienist can perform regular dental cleanings. Deep cleanings, where build-up under the gum line is removed, may be necessary if gum disease is moderate or severe. Sensitivity associated with gum recession and gum disease can be treated at the dentist,” Davis said.
Simple dental routines
It is easy to get your mouth clean and healthy, and keep it that way. A simple routine can help prevent most dental problems, including:
• Brushing your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste.
• Spit out after brushing and do not rinse, so that the fluoride stays on your teeth longer, cleaning between the teeth with ‘interdental’ brushes or floss at least once a day.
• Eat a healthy diet and limit foods and drinks with added sugars, replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn.
• Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing.
• Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars.
• Avoid tobacco use.
• Schedule regular dental check-ups and cleanings.
• Contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises.