Posted October 2, 2020
Healthy teeth and gums are essential to enjoying everyday life. Taking good care of your oral health protects your smile. It also promotes better overall health. That’s because a lack of dental care can cause serious medical problems. Review six ways poor oral health can affect overall health.
Heart disease and infection
Bacteria in the mouth can combine with sugars and carbohydrates in the foods you eat, causing tooth decay and gum disease. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. It can cause an infection in the lining of the heart; a condition called endocarditis. Also, oral infections can lead to heart disease, clogged arteries or stroke.
Oral bacteria left untreated can cause severe gum disease. People with chronic kidney issues who develop gum disease have a 41% higher risk of death within 10 years. In comparison, people with chronic kidney disease, but with healthy teeth and gums, reduce their risk to 32%.
People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease. Diabetes slows the body’s ability to fight infections and control blood sugar levels. In turn, this provides a rich environment for oral bacteria to develop, often causing severe dental problems.
Unhealthy bacteria in the mouth can travel to the lungs through normal breathing. This bacteria can increase the development of pneumonia and other respiratory problems. As people age, many have weaker immune systems, making it harder to fight off infections. People of all ages need to take good care of their oral health to control harmful bacteria.
People with HIV/AIDS are more susceptible to infections. Their immune systems are weaker, so even minor infections can lead to severe complications. They also are at greater risk for developing several oral problems, such as fever blisters, thrush, ulcers or canker sores, warts or tooth decay.
Expectant moms who don’t brush and floss their teeth may develop periodontitis (gum disease), putting them at greater risk for giving birth prematurely.
Oral health care tips
Dental professionals offer six tips to care for your teeth and gums:
- Brush twice daily, for two minutes each time, after breakfast and at bedtime.
- Floss teeth every day. Get between teeth, but be gentle with your gums.
- Swish a small amount of alcohol-free mouth wash over your teeth to remove food and plaque particles. Spit it out in the sink. (Mouth wash with alcohol dries out oral tissues, which is hard on the gums.)
- Eat nutritious meals with healthy servings of fresh vegetables, fruits, dairy and lean meats. Limit sugary snacks and beverages. For tips on servings and portion size, see this suggested guide.
- Schedule professional teeth cleanings, as directed by your dentist. It’s the only way to remove plaque buildup.
- Stop smoking. It’s hard on your oral tissues and may lead to oral cancer.