Last Updated June 13th, 2021
Some quick dental facts
- Roughly one-third of the global population in the age group of 65-74 years doesn’t possess natural teeth.
- An estimated 60-90% of school-going children have dental cavities. In adults, this figure is as high as 100%.
- Tooth decay is the second most common ailment worldwide, first being the common cold.
- During your entire lifetime, your mouth will produce enough saliva to fill two swimming pools.
- Your tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body. The tooth enamel is the ultimate protective shield of your tooth.
- 85% of patients who have suffered a cardiac arrest have periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic bacterial infection which targets the gums.
- Nearly 37,000 new cases of oral cancer are reported every year. Only 55% of these cases have a 5-year survival rate.
- Gum disease in men is a very strong indicator of pancreatic cancer (63% more likely). Pancreatic Cancer is considered to be one of the most lethal types of cancer.
Mouth- A window to the world
The oral cavity consists of your lips, inner cheeks, 2/3rd part of the tongue, your gums, roof & floor of the mouth. This area houses the teeth and the salivary glands. The oral cavity is the first pit stop for your food. This is where the process of digestion begins.
The teeth help in mechanically breaking down the food you consume. The saliva, produced by the salivary glands serves important functions in the process of digestion.
Firstly, it helps in the chemical breakdown of starch in the food through a process called “salivary amylase”. Secondly, the liquid moistens the food and facilitates easier swallowing. The saliva removes bacteria and debris from the food and prevents these toxins from entering our systems. In addition to this,it has antibacterial and pH balancing properties.
In addition to the being as the first part of the digestive tube, the oral cavity also helps in facilitating speech and as an additional channel for respiration. The oral cavity is also considered as a chemosensory organ.
A chemosensory organ is the one that helps in perceiving the chemical stimulus such as odor or taste. Most of us are guilty of considering oral cavity as a completely separate entity from the rest of our body.
This tendency must cease since the cleanliness and health of your oral cavity doesn’t only have social and aesthetic determinants.
According to WHO, bad oral hygiene could be the origin of several dangerous chronic illnesses. Scientists contend that since this region serves as a bridge between the external surroundings and our internal bodily state, oral cavity can be a strong indicator of our overall health.
A tooth for a tooth
Surprising as it may sound, a simple swab of saliva collected from your mouth could reveal the entire picture of the state of your health.
For starters, chronic illnesses such as diabetes or infections such as HIV/AIDS render their first visible symptoms in this region.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, almost 90% of all systemic ailments generate oral symptoms. Your saliva could be used to detect your body’s cortisol levels (stress-levels), bone-loss in osteoporosis, the presence of environmental toxins and carcinogens, hormonal levels, liver cirrhosis, and even certain types of cancers. So what can go wrong if you have a poor oral health? Well, a bad sense of oral hygiene can trigger numerous health conditions, as listed below.
1. Bad gums = Weak heart
An inflammation of the gums, caused by bacterial infection (gingivitis or periodontitis), leads to atherosclerosis. In simple words, hardening of arteries. When your arteries harden, they restrict normal blood flow directed towards your heart. This could lead to serious damage in terms of cardiac arrest or even stroke. Gums are highly vascular in nature (full of blood vessels).
Bad oral hygiene habits cause bacterial growth in the mouth. These microbes mix with our bloodstream through the gums and travel to different areas of our body. The bacterial invasion, thus, triggers inflammation in various regions of our body. It is not surprising to realize that the bacteria Streptococcus sanguis, the pathogen responsible for periodontal infections, plays a major role in stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
2. The cycle of diabetes
The growing epidemic of metabolic conditions such as diabetes is a mark of our lifestyle today.
While an unhealthy diet and poor levels of physical activities might be the leading reasons for diabetes, periodontal infections play a major role here. Periodontitis raises the levels of cytokines and serum lipids which can cause your body to build up an insulin resistance. These are also responsible for the gradual destruction of pancreatic cells, which fosters condition for diabetes. Alternatively, diabetic patients are more likely to develop periodontal ailments.
This is because diabetes renders severe damage to the nerves and the blood vessels (Remember, how severe diabetes patients have their legs amputated owing severe nerve damage?).
Heightened glucose levels restrict the supply of oxygen and nutrition to the gums, exacerbating gum infections. This means that gum diseases and diabetes are deeply inter-related, with one causing the other and forming a vicious cycle.
3. Gum infections and maternal health
The potential risks caused by poor oral health during pregnancy remain surprisingly underrated. An infection in the gums in an expecting mother can lead to several birth complications. Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, pregnant women become more susceptible to infections, including gingivitis and periodontitis.
And these infections could cause more damage than just aching gums and tooth loss. Studies reveal that an incidence of gum disease during gestation period increases the likelihood of delivering pre-term babies and/or low-birth-weight babies. While the exact reason still eludes the scientific community, one reason could be that the infection-causing microbes may enter the placental blood and cause the birth-complications. These could alter the labor-triggering hormones in the mother resulting in premature labor.
4. Gums and osteoporosis
A decrease in jaw-bone density is a definitive indicator of bone-loss and the resulting condition of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is the condition where your bones and joints become porous or brittle making you more vulnerable to injuries and fractures. Several gum diseases also cause bone-loss (loss of enamel and even the entire tooth). Since a loss of bone density is central to both osteoporosis and gum disorders, it is important to understand the relationship between the two.
Periodontal infections tend to cause inflammation in our body. This inflammation is the birthplace of many chronic illnesses, as mentioned before. Moreover, such inflammatory proteins produced due to gum infections stimulate bone-loss.
This is similar to what happens in osteoporosis. Hence, regular dental check-ups could keep you updated about any impending risk of osteoporosis. Also, having healthy gums will contribute to a lesser risk of inflammation and the resulting osteoporosis.
5. Oral health linked to Alzheimer’s
This progressive condition, where the individual gradually loses cognitive abilities, is surprisingly linked to poor oral health. In a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, the brain cells are irreversibly damaged. This could happen because of a number of reasons such as old age, genetics, trauma, and poor lifestyle choices. But one of the biggest factors responsible for such neurodegenerative diseases is increased inflammation.
Chronic gum diseases, thus, can be held accountable for this increased inflammation burden in an aging individual. Gram-negative bacteria, which is present in gum infections can cause direct impact on the brain. Shrinking of the brain due to inflammation is the mark of Alzheimer’s. And your bad oral hygiene could be contributing to this.
6. Renal, respiratory, and reproductive health
Persistent gum infections mean poor immunity and increased levels of inflammation. This could have a direct impact on your vital organs such as kidneys and lungs too. Poor oral hygiene makes your mouth a breeding ground for bacteria and other disease-causing microbes. These easily travel to your respiratory tract and the lungs as you breathe.
It could, then, increase your risk of acquiring lung infections, COPD, pneumonia etc.The factor of a weakened immune system could also weigh heavy on your kidneys. The microbes, once released into your bloodstream via infected gums, can travel all the way to your kidneys and result in Chronic Kidney Disease.
Likewise, a chronic periodontal disease also puts a man at a risk of erectile dysfunction.In addition to these serious medical complications, poor oral health also causes infertility, dementia, and rheumatoid arthritis, and yes, cancer too.
How to maintain good oral hygiene?
Now that you have a complete grasp on how oral health is deeply intertwined with your overall well-being, it wouldn’t hurt to look into some easy steps on how to keep your mouth clean and healthy. Follow these simple steps and be safe from gum infections
- Never underestimate the power of a professional tongue scrapper. It not only freshens up your breath, but it also removes disease-causing germs from your mouth.
- Don’t continue with the same toothbrush for more than 2-3 months. Keep the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and gently clean your gums. Don’t be too harsh or abrasive when brushing your teeth.
- Use alcohol-free mouthwash. Regularly gargle with apple cider vinegar. It will keep your oral cavity germ-free and make your teeth shiny.
- No to mention,colas and other sugar-laden drinks and foods are the enemies of oral hygiene. Red meat, alcohol, and tea/coffee too.
- Just like tongue-cleaning, flossing is an activity integral to dental health. This removes tiny food particles and plaque stuck between teeth and gums. If not cleaned, these become a breeding ground for germs.
- While it might be tempting to do so, but using your teeth as a tool for tearing or cracking things is bad for your dental health. You might unknowingly chip off a tooth, hurt your jaws, or cause damage to your gums.
- Teeth-grinding or bruxism affects people who live under constant stress. This causes your jawline to tighten-up and makes your teeth more sensitive to pain. Wear protective night-guard for your mouth before going to bed, if you experience this condition.
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