Looking after your teeth and gums isn't only important for avoiding fillings and bad breath.
Studies consistently show that oral health is linked to general health and wellbeing in many ways – so problems such as tooth decay and gum disease can affect other parts of the body beyond your mouth.
Diseases of the mouth
Most oral health problems are caused by bacteria in plaque, the sticky layer of germs that builds up on the teeth if they're not properly cleaned. Common dental diseases like tooth decay and gingivitis can also increase your risk factor for more serious diseases.
Tooth decay (dental caries) is the wearing down of teeth enamel by plaque. This can happen if you consume food or drink containing sugar or carbohydrates. Bacteria feed on these substances and produce acid that erodes the tooth surface. Over time, tooth decay can cause cavities which may need a filling or a more serious treatment such as a root canal or extraction.
If plaque reaches the gum, it can cause the tissue to become swollen, red or even bleed. These can all be signs that you have gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease. This can usually be treated by improving your oral hygiene and seeing your dentist, otherwise it can progress into periodontitis, which may cause tooth loss.
Oral cancer or mouth cancer is any cancer that develops in the soft tissues of the mouth, including the roof and floor of the mouth, cheeks, lips or tongue. You will be at higher risk of developing oral cancer if you smoke, drink excessive alcohol or have gum disease. Ask your dentist if they offer an oral cancer screening as part of your regular check-up.
Chronic diseases in other parts of the body
Poor oral health is linked with health problems elsewhere in the body. A review of evidence by Dental Health Services Victoria found that oral health problems such as tooth decay, gum disease and tooth loss can be risk factors for a wide range of conditions, including:
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Cardiovascular (heart) disease
- Kidney diseases
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Respiratory (lung) diseases
- Stomach ulcers
There may also be a link between gum disease and premature birth with low birth weight for pregnant women. Poor oral health can also impact on psychological wellbeing and mood disorders throughout life.
How to lower your risks
You can lower your risk of dental disease and associated chronic diseases by taking good care of your teeth and gums. Dentists recommend:
- brushing your teeth twice a day
- flossing once a day
- following a healthy, balanced diet
- cutting down on sugar, starch and alcohol
- not smoking
- seeing your dentist for regular check-ups and teeth cleaning
Is it time for your check-up?
If it's been longer than 6 months since you last visited the dentist, make an appointment at your local Swish Dental clinic in Mitchelton or Everton Park so our Brisbane dentists can give you a complete oral health assessment.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Oral health and dental care in Australia [Online] 2019 [Accessed March 2019] Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/dental-oral-health/oral-health-and-dental-care-in-australia/
Dental Health Services Victoria (DHSV). Links between oral health and general health: the case for action [Online] 2011 [Accessed March 2019] Available from: https://www.dhsv.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/2515/links-between-oral-health-and-general-health-the-case-for-action.pdf