8 Health Effects of Poor Dental Hygiene that Extend Beyond Your Mouth

2013-05-28 11:53
dental health, brushing and flossing, health tips

It is very important to take good care of your teeth and gums, but for more reasons than you might think. Because the mouth is the “gateway to the body,” bacteria from the teeth and gums can affect your overall health in more ways than one.

To keep the mouth and teeth healthy, it is recommended to brush and floss every day – at least two times a day. Dentists also recommend avoiding certain cavity-producing foods, such as sugary treats, and avoiding tobacco products. You should also see your dentist or oral health professional regularly (recommended every six months).

But why? Well, obviously, poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay or cavities. Despite what you might think, cavities do not only occur in children. Adults can get them too. The teeth are covered in a hard outer coating called enamel. Every day, a thin film of bacteria (dental plaque) builds up on the teeth which produces a bacteria that can eat a hole in this enamel if not removed. Brushing and flossing can help protect your teeth from decay, but once a cavity has formed, a dentist has to fix it.

Gum disease is another consequence of poor dental hygiene. When plaque builds up along and under the gum line, infections can occur that harm the gums and the bone that hold the teeth in place. The most severe form of gum disease is known as periodontal disease. In this case, infection has become so severe that bone deterioration can occur, leading to tooth loss.

Bad dental health can be also particularly bad for your social life as well. Halitosis – bad breath – is caused by small food particles that are wedged between the teeth that collect bacteria and emit chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide. This is the same compound which gives rotten eggs their characteristic smell.
Good dental health, though, is not just important for your teeth, gums, and breath. The bacteria that originate in the mouth can travel throughout the body and cause a host of health problems that you may not be aware of.

1. Heart Disease/Stroke Risk
People with periodontal disease are two times more likely to develop heart disease and arterial narrowing as a result of bacteria and plaque entering the bloodstream through the gums. The bacteria contains a clot-promoting protein that can clog arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack. In addition, if high levels of disease-causing bacteria from the mouth clog the carotid artery – the blood vessel that delivers blood to the brain and head – it could increase the risk of having a stroke.

2. Increased Risk of Dementia
Tooth loss due to poor dental health is also a risk factor for memory loss and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. One study, published in Behavioral and Brain Functions, found that infections in the gums release inflammatory substances which in turn increase brain inflammation that can cause neuronal (brain cell) death.

3. Respiratory Problems
Bacteria from periodontal disease can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs where it can aggravate respiratory systems, especially in patients who already have respiratory problems. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology uncovered a link between gum disease and an increased risk of pneumonia and acute bronchitis.

"By working with your dentist or periodontist, you may actually be able to prevent or diminish the progression of harmful diseases such as pneumonia or COPD," says Donald S. Clem, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. "

4. Diabetes
95% of US adults with diabetes also have periodontal disease and 1/3 have such advanced disease that has lead to tooth loss. This is likely because people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections.

The link between gum disease and diabetes appears to be a two-way street. In addition to having a higher risk gum disease due to diabetes, periodontal disease may also make it more difficult to control blood sugar, putting the patient at risk for even more diabetic complications.

5. Erectile Dysfunction
Men with periodontal disease are 7 times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than men with good dental hygiene. Periodontal bacteria can travel through the bloodstream, enflaming blood vessels and blocking flow to the genitals.

6. Risk of Premature Birth
In the US, nearly 13% of babies are born prematurely according to the March of Dimes. Premature babies face a host of medical problems including breathing issues and infections. A mom’s dental health can impact this association.

Doctors theorize that one of the main causes of preterm birth is infection in the mother’s body. One common site of infection is the mouth. In addition to brushing and flossing, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found an association between the use of a non-alcohol antimicrobial mouth rinse in pregnant women and a decreased rate of delivering babies prematurely. The theory is that gum-disease-induced inflammation could be reduced through the regular use of bacteria-killing mouthwash.

7. Other Infertility Problems
Research presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology found that gum disease could increase the time it takes for a woman to become pregnant. In the study, women with gum disease took an average of seven months to conceive, compared to five months among their peers without gum disease.

8. Cancer
Researchers have found that men with gum disease were 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers.

Good dental practices – visiting your dentist or oral health care professional on a regular basis – can also help with early detection of oral cancers. And smokers, who are at the highest risk of such cancers, are less likely to visit a dentist, according to a survey reviewed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here is how to keep your Mouth and Teeth Healthy at all stages of life:

Infants and children
• Clean the new teeth every day. When the teeth first come in, clean them by rubbing them gently with a clean wet washcloth. When the teeth are bigger, use a child's toothbrush.
• Children under 2 years of age shouldn't use toothpaste. Instead, use water to brush your child's teeth.
• Don't let your baby go to sleep with a bottle. This can leave milk or juice sitting on the teeth and cause cavities that are known as "baby-bottle tooth decay."
• Encourage older children to eat low-sugar snacks, such as fruits, cheese and vegetables. Avoid giving your child sticky, chewy candy.
• Teach your children how to brush their teeth and the importance of keeping their teeth clean.
• Take your children to the dentist regularly. The American Dental Association recommends that children see their dentist starting at 1 year of age.

Teens
• Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
• Floss your teeth at least once a day.
• Don't smoke or chew tobacco, which can stain your teeth, give you bad breath and cause cancer.
• Wear the right protective headgear while playing contact sports.
• See your dentist every year for regular check-ups and cleanings.

Adults
• Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
• Floss your teeth at least once a day.
• Don't smoke or chew tobacco.
• Ask your doctor if your medicines have side effects that might damage your teeth. (For example, some medicines may cause you to have a dry mouth.)
• Look inside your mouth regularly for sores that don't heal, irritated gums or other changes.
• See your dentist regularly.

If you have any problems with your teeth or concerns about your mouth, see your doctor or dentist right away.

References Include:
National Institute on Aging (National Institutes of Health) – Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth
American Academy of Periodontology, “Gum Disease Information”
Familydoctor.org: Mouth and Teeth: How to Keep Them Healthy