With the overwhelming focus on viruses and COVID-19 right now, we all must do the right thing: practice social distancing, wash our hands, and stay home if we’re feeling sick. It’s also a time to keep ourselves as healthy as possible, and a great way of doing this is to look after your oral health.
Our mouth is like a window to the health of our bodies. When your dentist inspects your mouth, teeth and gums, they are looking for more than just cavities.
For example, your mouth can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infections. Systemic diseases (diseases that affect the entire body) such as AIDS or diabetes may first become apparent through certain oral problems or mouth lesions.
This is another reason why it’s good to have regular professional checkups. (Also, if you have diabetes or HIV infections, your body’s immune system will be compromised, making you more prone to gum infection, so must be extra vigilant with your dental hygiene.)
Looking after our oral health also helps keep bacteria, inflammation and dental disease at bay. Our mouths are filled with bacteria, and some of these bacteria are possibly linked to periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay. There’s a large amount of research linking periodontal disease with other health problems such as bacterial pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
Understanding gum disease
Gum (periodontal) disease starts when a proliferation of a sticky bacteria-laden film – known as plaque – builds up around your teeth. In our arteries, a completely different type of plaque made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other particles can build up. This fatty plaque is one of the foundations of coronary artery disease (CAD). Not everyone that has gum disease will get heart disease, and vice versa. However, researchers believe that a buildup of inflammation in your gums puts a burden on your body’s immune system and may contribute to atherosclerosis, among other diseases.
Gum disease: symptoms
How do you know if you have gum disease? If you notice any of the following, you should see your dentist:
- swollen, red or sore gums
- bleeding gums when brushing or flossing
- constant bad breath
- gums that appear to have pulled away from your teeth
- loose, wobbly teeth
- pus between gums and teeth
- your bite feels different
- partial dentures no longer fit well
Take care of your oral health
We encourage everyone to practice good oral hygiene at home by brushing and flossing daily, rinsing your mouth with water after eating (if it’s not convenient to brush) and avoiding sugar. You should also maintain your six-monthly dental checkups.
Summary: Healthy mouth, healthy body
Here are just a few ways your dental health can affect other parts of your body:
Heart disease – By maintaining good oral health, you help decrease the chance of serious health conditions such as stroke and heart disease. This is because the inflammation caused by the bacteria in your mouth can have detrimental effects on other parts of the body.
Bone health – If you develop periodontal disease (gum disease), this can negatively affect jawbone tissue by slowly eroding it. And – your jawbone is the foundation for a healthy mouth.
Pregnancy – If you become pregnant, you must look after your oral hygiene. While pregnant, your hormones change, making you more susceptible to both gingivitis and gum disease (periodontal disease).
Positive mental health & self-confidence – Healthy teeth and gums and a fresh breath are far more attractive than their counterparts: gum disease and bad breath. By keeping your teeth healthy, you’ll look and feel better, inspire more confidence and peace of mind.
Brain – There’s mounting evidence that improving oral hygiene may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia. The reason is that poor oral hygiene produces inflammation, and this inflammation may have a negative effect on the brain.
Certain cancers – Numerous studies show growing evidence of a link between periodontal disease and certain cancers such as pancreatic cancer. It’s thought that the inflammation present in periodontitis makes it easier for harmful bacteria to travel to other parts of the body and help boost cancer cells.