Oral hygiene is vital to your overall health and well-being. While you might not see the connection immediately, there is a direct link between oral health and health in general. Unfortunately, many Americans do not take adequate care of their teeth and gums. Nearly 30% of Americans have untreated tooth decay, and over 92% of the population between 20 and 64 have cavities.
Like other areas of the body, the mouth contains countless bacteria, most of which are harmless. However, as the mouth serves as the entry point to the digestive and respiratory tracts, harmful bacteria, despite being few, can cause disease or illness.
Adopting good oral habits, then, has health benefits beyond the teeth and gums. Brushing, flossing, and regular dental appointments can reduce the number of harmful bacteria and resolve or treat dental issues before they evolve into decay and disease. While the relationship between oral hygiene and health seems strange, it is real and well-established.
How Inadequate Oral Hygiene Contributes to Health Concerns
When a person adopts good oral hygiene practices, the body's natural defenses are usually enough to combat any harmful bacteria that make it into the respiratory and digestive systems. Unfortunately, when a person does not use proper oral hygiene, harmful bacteria in the mouth can reach such levels as to lead to infection, tooth decay, or gum disease.
Also, some medicines can reduce the flow of saliva. Saliva plays a vital role in washing away food and neutralizing acids produced by bacteria. When saliva production is normal, it protects against the multiplication of harmful microbes, reducing the risks of illness and disease. Medications that may lead to reduced saliva or dry mouth include:
Finally, studies suggest inflammation caused by periodontitis and oral bacteria can contribute to some diseases. Also, certain conditions can lower the body's resistance to infection, such as diabetes.
How Certain Conditions Link To Oral Hygiene
Poor oral hygiene can lead to minor and temporary illnesses and infections, but it can also contribute to diseases and long-term conditions. For example, studies link poor oral health to heart diseases like endocarditis.
Endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium — the inner lining of the heart valves and chambers. The condition usually occurs when bacteria from another location in the body spreads through the bloodstream, attaching to areas in the heart. Bacteria from the mouth can access the bloodstream and transfer to the heart.
Research also suggests a link between oral bacteria and other health crises. While the link is not clear, researchers note that stroke, clogged arteries, and heart disease seem connected to infections and inflammation caused by oral bacteria in some cases.
Also, poor oral health can cause pneumonia and pregnancy and birth complications, such as low birth weight. Oral hygiene can also play a role in the management of certain conditions, like diabetes.
Oral hygiene is a crucial aspect of your overall health. Maintaining good oral habits, such as brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist, can reduce the risks of bacterial infections and disease development. If you have any questions about proper oral care, contact your local dental practice.