At the start of a new year my patients invariably ask me what things they can do to keep themselves healthy. One of the first basic things I tell them is to take good care of their teeth! Like many of my patients, you may wonder what the condition of your gums and teeth have to do with your overall health? It’s simple, really, and I’d like to explain to you what the basic relationship is between your dental health and the rest of your body.
Your Mouth – The Door to Your Good Health
You may not know this, but your mouth, and all the structures within it – your teeth, your gums, and your tongue – is one of the first places where disease can start in your body. That’s right. Bacteria levels can rise in your mouth just from the simple act of eating and/or drinking. Without the proper hygiene of regularly brushing your teeth, flossing, and cleaning your tongue, bacteria can infect gums causing serious gum disease and even tooth loss. These same bacteria can travel throughout your blood and go on to create a number of other diseases that include the following:
- Endocarditis. Inflammation of the lining of the heart thought caused by bacteria that enters the blood stream from poor dental hygiene and/or infections from dental procedures, etc.
- Cardiovascular disease. Thought contributed to, or caused by, chronic periodontal disease such as gingivitis (inflammation of the gingival/gums). Also, clogged arteries are now thought possibly due to high oral bacteria levels.
- Stroke. Thought to be caused by clogged head and neck arteries from high oral bacteria levels.
- Osteoporosis. Thought possibly associated with periodontal bone loss.
- Gastric and intestinal diseases/infections/cancers. The H. pylori bug has been found to be the culprit bacteria behind many gastric infections like ulcers and even cancer. It is thought to enter the body through the mouth in poor hygiene resulting in gum disease.
- Alzheimer’s. According to the Mayo Clinic, tooth loss before age 35 may be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer disease later in life.
- Type 2 diabetes. Chronic bacterial conditions can lead to low level inflammation which in turn can decrease insulin uptake in cells leading to diabetes.
- Pancreatic cancer. A recent study showed that about 2/3 of the participants who developed pancreatic cancer had a history of periodontal disease.
- Lung disease. Mouth bacteria can get drawn into the lungs through aspiration, a type of sucking-in process, and cause infections like pneumonia or worsen COPD.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Oral Health?
As I mentioned above, one of the first things I tell my patients, is the best thing you can do for your overall health is to observe good oral hygiene. Here’s how:
- Get regular, once a year dental check ups and twice yearly cleanings.
- Floss completely, regularly after meals.
- Brush teeth at least twice a day.
- Use a battery-powered spin-type tooth brush. Studies show that powered tooth brushes get teeth much cleaner and prevent gum disease much better than manual, hand-powered brushing with a regular tooth brush.
- Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash at least before going to bed to keep bacteria levels down at night while your mouth is closed.
- Be sure your diet contains adequate calcium to prevent periodontal bone loss and osteoporosis.
- Cut down/out refined sugars that produce acid and cause bacteria levels to rise.
- Drink adequate amounts of water to stay hydrated overall and keep mouth tissues moist. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, contributes to increased bacteria levels and breakdown of tissues.
- Drink a few cups of green tea per day which has been shown to kill oral bacteria, as well as H. pylori bacteria, and boost the condition of oral tissues.
- Clean your tongue at least once a day so bacteria cannot overgrow.
- Do not smoke or use smokeless tobacco products like chewing tobacco, which are noted to increase risk for oral and gastric cancers.
Spend a little extra time each day to make sure that you brush and flush properly and rinse your mouth with an antibacterial rinse to keep down bacterial levels. Keeping healthy oral tissues can go a long way in preventing disease and keeping you healthy well into your golden years!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Adult Health/Oral Health, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dental/DE00001/NSECTIONGROUP=2
Dental Health and Overall Health, http://www.everydayhealth.com/specialreport/powerful-tips-daily-oral-care/dental-health-overall-health.aspx