In my 30-plus years of dental practice, I have witnessed much avoidable pain and suffering because of a neglect for dental health. Since the mouth is the gateway to your overall health, we now know the direct relationship between diseases of the mouth and their effects on the body. Therefore, improper care of your teeth and gums can lead to a variety of health problems.
In this column, I will address the importance of maintaining good oral health and ways to avoid unnecessary pain, suffering and diminished medical challenges.
Your oral health offers clues about your overall health.
Like other areas of the body, your mouth is immersed with bacteria — mostly harmless. But your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts and some of these bacteria can cause disease.
Normally, the body’s natural defenses and good oral healthcare, such as daily brushing and flossing, help keep bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that may lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Dental neglect has dire consequences on oral care and medical status. Additionally, we pay higher costs trying to correct. This can be avoided if you follow the advice of your dentist.
Dental ailments resulting in pain, suffering and increased expense are as follows:
• Cavities that extend to the pulp, leading to root canals or extractions.
• Gum disease and gum abscesses leading to intense pain and early tooth loss.
• Reduced immune system resulting in medical ailments.
Oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with gum disease (periodontitis) is the culprit. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 lower the body’s resistance to infection making oral health problems more severe.
Oral bacteria and gum diseases may contribute to various diseases and conditions:
Endocarditis: This infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves usually occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart.
Cardiovascular disease: Research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke may be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
Pregnancy and birth complications: Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight babies.
Pneumonia: Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
Diabetes: By reducing the body’s resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels. Regular periodontal care can improve diabetes control.
HIV/AIDS: Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
Osteoporosis: This bone-weakening disease is linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw.
Alzheimer’s disease: Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
Tell your dentist about the medications you take and changes in your overall health – especially if you’ve recently been ill or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes.
To protect your oral health, practice good oral hygiene daily. Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Floss daily. Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing. Eat a healthy diet and limit sugary foods and drinks. Replace your toothbrush every two to three months, or sooner, if bristles are splayed or worn. Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings. Avoid tobacco use.
Protect yourself by learning more about the connection between your oral health and overall health. Contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises. Investment in your overall health by taking care of your oral health prevents unnecessary pain and suffering.
• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.