Most people are unaware of the link between oral health and general health. Maintaining healthy teeth and gums are important factors in preventing or delaying the onset of heart disease, stroke, dementia as well as diabetes, and cancer. Poor oral hygiene, in effect, increases your chances of a shorter life span.
The relationship between oral health and conditions such as heart disease and dementia are complex but clear. Good oral health and full-body health are inextricably linked.
Listen to Your Gums
An important sign of poor dental hygiene is bleeding gums due to gingivitis, a mild form of bacterial gum disease that produces redness, irritation, and inflammation of the part of the gum at the base of a tooth.
If not treated promptly, gingivitis can lead to a more serious stage of gum disease called periodontitis, resulting in loss of teeth. Periodontitis is also associated with other serious health conditions including heart disease and impaired brain function.
Symptoms and Early Warning Signs of Gum Disease
Be aware of this possibility when you have red, swollen, and sore gums that are painful to the touch. Gums that bleed when eating, brushing, or flossing are other signs of infection around your gums and teeth. Another sign of infection is frequent halitosis which feels like your teeth are wobbly.
Oral Health and Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and it is closely associated with gum disease because of two factors: inflammation and bacterial infection.
The bacterial infection associated with gum disease triggers inflammation throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system. Though inflammation is a protective immune response against irritants and infectious agents, prolonged inflammation can cause tissue and organ damage, including to that of the heart.
The same bacteria causing generalized inflammation can also enter the bloodstream directly through your inflamed gums. Studies have then detected these bacteria in the arteries responsible for supplying blood to the heart muscle and can cause these blood vessels to narrow increasing the threat of blood clots. This can lead to hypertension and strokes.
In addition, these bacteria can also attack and infect the inner lining of the heart causing endocarditis, a narrowing of the blood flow when the arteries begin to swell in response to the infection. This increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Oral Health and Alzheimer’s
Studies show that Porphyromonas gingivalis, the bacteria commonly found in periodontitis, can also be found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, and this bacteria has been identified as boosting the production of beta-amyloid, the neurological marker for Alzheimer’s.
Studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that people with bleeding and detached gums exhibit a higher likelihood of developing age-related cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s. This is also true for older adults who have lost a significant number of teeth.
The reason is that the presence of Porphyromonas gingivalis triggers an immune response, leading to the destruction of nerve cells, increasing the possibility of memory loss. In short, constant inflammation caused by years of poor oral care can eventually damage the brain.
Protect Your Oral Health
Long-term threats to your general health are the best reasons possible to focus on your dental hygiene, as well as your personal habits to reduce the chance of developing heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other systemic ailments including diabetes and cancer in your later years. You are never too young to begin purposeful preventive care.