Is Oral Hygiene Really That Important?
Yes. Yes, it is. And for more reasons than just maintaining your teeth.
Your mouth is an entry point to the outside world. While that last sentence may be at risk of sounding a bit too poetic, it is true. We eat with it, we breathe through it. These things are obvious, but it also provides a way for bacteria to find their way into our bodies, so good oral hygiene is essential.
The mouth is a gateway to the body.
Bacteria will always find its way into your body through the mouth to a certain degree, but it is nothing to be too worried about if you take proper care of your oral hygiene. Most of the bacteria that ends up in your mouth are harmless. Brushing and flossing regularly goes a long way in keeping this bacteria in check and from preventing issues, such as tooth decay, gingivitis, or periodontitis. However, issues like these can arise when oral bacteria is not kept in control.
When bacteria builds up in the mouth and teeth, it makes your gums more prone to infection, which is known as gingivitis. When gums become infected, the body’s immune system attacks the infection, which leads to inflammation of the gums. This continues until the infection is brought under control through steps such as teeth cleaning from a dentist and regular flossing and brushing. When the infection is not brought under control, over time, the inflammation and the chemicals produced by it eat away at the bone structure of your teeth and gums. This leads to a severe gum disease, which is known as periodontitis. Unfortunately, if left unchecked, this inflammation can lead to other issues in one’s body as well.
Outside of conditions like periodontitis and tooth decay, other conditions can come about in part due to oral bacteria. Amongst others, these include endocarditis (an infection in the inner lining of your heart chambers), pregnancy and birth complications (periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight), and pneumonia (which can be caused by bacteria in your mouth being pulled into your lungs).
Let’s dive a bit deeper.
The Mouth-Body Connection
While it can enter your respiratory system, bacteria in your mouth does not always end up in your bloodstream. However, if your teeth or gums are unhealthy, sometimes routine maintenance like brushing and flossing can allow for entry points for some of these microbes. If you have a healthy immune system, this oral bacteria in your bloodstream is likely to cause no problems. But if your immune system is weak due to something like cancer treatment, oral bacteria in your bloodstream can lead to an infection in another part of your body. One such example of this is infective endocarditis, which is when oral bacteria enter your bloodstream and stick to the lining of diseased heart valves.
As well, recent research illustrates that there might be an association between oral infections and poorly controlled diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and preterm birth. This does not mean oral infection actually causes these conditions, rather that associations have been observed.
The mouth can be a way of identifying other problems.
A swab of your mouth bacteria can tell a doctor a lot about what is going on inside your body. As previously touched on, your mouth is the entry point to your respiratory and digestive tracts, and while most of the bacteria that end up in your mouth is harmless, some can cause disease.
Some conditions such as AIDS and diabetes first become apparent in the mouth.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90% of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms. Some conditions that might affect your oral health include diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and osteoporosis.
Saliva itself can also serve as a diagnostic tool. An example of this is that it can be used to measure cortisol levels to test the stress response in newborn children. As well, certain cancer markers are detectable in saliva.
Saliva can tell you if you are at risk of diseases. It can also tell you whether you are at risk of other issues or chronic diseases outside of the likes of periodontal or gum disease. There are bone-specific proteins that can be found in saliva that are helpful in monitoring bone loss. It can be used to measure environmental toxins, antibodies that might indicate other diseases, and hormone levels. And this is only just scratching the surface.
What can you do to protect your mouth?
First of all, take steps to reduce the risk of tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontitis. While saliva does help protect you from some invaders, some bacteria can form dental plaque. This can build up and lead to problems. It is important to floss and brush at least twice a day and schedule regular check-ups and cleanings with your dentist. Brush with toothpaste containing fluoride and be sure to replace your toothbrush once the bristles become splayed or worn. Limit food with added sugars and avoid tobacco use.
Taking care of your teeth not only helps prevent bad breath, but it also helps prevent tooth decay and gum disease, helps you keep your teeth as you age, and wards off other medical issues. The good news is that is barely half of it, and the steps required to maintain good oral hygiene aren’t that hard at all.
Berrien Dental is committed to helping you keep up with your good oral hygiene.
Our team has a true passion for helping patients with their smiles and oral health. We know how important it is to you, so whether you just need a cleaning or simply have some questions, we’re here to help. You can give our office a call, or you can fill out our online appointment request form.
We understand that the human body is complex. Even the slightest ripple can spread in impact. With a little work, you will live a longer, healthier, and happier life with a brighter smile along the way.