As anyone who’s had a bad toothache knows, oral health issues can have a big effect on your quality of life. They can make eating, talking or even just moving your head around more difficult and painful. While those are all good reasons to stay on top of your oral health and hygiene, oral health issues can also serve as indicators of more serious problems with overall health.
Beyond the mouth
Researchers studying oral health have found that some diseases that wouldn’t normally be associated with the mouth are connected to poor oral health. One of the most commonly found connections is with cardiovascular disease. Some studies have pointed to periodontitis (or severe gum inflammation) as an indicator of heart disease, while others have found that oral bacteria also is a sign.
The exact reason oral health correlates with heart disease is unknown, but doctors have some pretty good guesses. Oral bacteria makes its way into other parts of your body, and gum inflammation may be a starting point for other vascular damage. Some researchers also point to behaviors such as smoking that affect your heart health and your oral health. Whatever the reason is, it’s clear that a healthy mouth and a healthy heart often go hand in hand.
In addition to heart disease, poor oral health can point to other conditions, including premature or low birth weight in newborns, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, such as with diabetes or HIV/AIDS, oral health issues aren’t the cause of the condition, but rather a symptom.
Tending to teeth
Understanding that good oral health affects more than just teeth and gums is a great start, but to stay healthy there are specific actions to take. The good news is they’re not too complicated. Staying on top of oral health involves doing many things that are often already habits.
To keep your mouth in great shape, you should:
- Brush your teeth twice every day. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride. Most toothpastes you find at the store will contain fluoride. If you’re unsure, look for the American Dental Association (ADA) seal; any toothpaste with that seal must have fluoride.
- Floss daily. Make sure you floss between every tooth. If you aren’t sure you’re getting into every crevice, ask your dentist or dental hygienist to show you the correct technique.
- Visit the dentist regularly. Many people visit the dentist once or twice a year, but there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how often you should. Talk with your dentist about what makes the most sense for you.
- Keep an eye on your diet. Sugary foods and drinks have a negative effect on your dental health. In particular, try to avoid using mints or gums with sugar.
- Consider your lifestyle choices. Smoking or chewing tobacco both will negatively affect your oral health. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
Not only will these behaviors ensure your mouth stays healthy and fresh, but they also will keep the rest of you healthier. And if you have concerns about any of the health issues associated with poor oral health, talk to your doctor or dentist.
Need a dentist? Visit augustahealth.com/find-a-provider to locate one.