Research suggests that the health of your mouth mirrors the condition of your body as a whole. For example, when your mouth is healthy, chances are your overall health is good, too. On the other hand, if you have poor oral health, you may have other health problems.
Healthy mouth equals a healthy body
A healthy mouth may help you ward off medical disorders. The flip side? An unhealthy mouth, especially if you have gum disease, may increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labour.
The case for good oral hygiene keeps getting stronger. Understanding the importance of oral health — and its connection to your overall health is now more important than ever.
What's in your mouth reveals much about your health
Many conditions cause oral signs and symptoms. Your mouth is a window into what's going on in the rest of your body, often serving as a helpful vantage point for detecting the early signs and symptoms of systemic disease — a disease that affects or pertains to your entire body, not just one of its parts.
Systemic conditions such as AIDS or diabetes, for example, often first become apparent as mouth lesions or other oral problems. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.
Protection against harmful invaders:
Saliva is also one of your body's main defences against disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. It contains antibodies that attack viral pathogens, such as the common cold and HIV. And it contains proteins called histatins, which inhibit the growth of a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans.
When these proteins are weakened by HIV infection or other illness, candida can grow out of control, resulting in a fungal infection called oral thrush.
Saliva also protects you against disease-causing bacteria. It contains enzymes that destroy bacteria in different ways, by degrading bacterial membranes, inhibiting the growth and metabolism of certain bacteria, and disrupting vital bacterial enzyme systems.
The problem with dental plaque
Although your saliva helps protect you against some invaders, it can't always do the job. More than 500 species of bacteria thrive in your mouth at any given time. These bacteria constantly form dental plaque — a sticky, colourless film that can cling to your teeth and cause health problems.
Your mouth as an infection source
If you don't brush and floss regularly to keep your teeth clean, plaque can build up along your gum line, creating an environment for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and your teeth. This gum infection is known as gingivitis. Left unchecked, gingivitis can lead to a more serious gum infection called periodontitis.
If you have a healthy immune system, the presence of oral bacteria in your bloodstream causes no problems. Your immune system quickly dispenses with them, preventing infection. However, if your immune system is weakened, for example because of a disease or cancer treatment, oral bacteria in your bloodstream may cause you to develop an infection in another part of your body.
What you can do to maintain optimal oral health
Get regular check- ups with your dentist
Seeing a dentist regularly helps to keep your mouth in top shape and allows your dentist to watch for developments that may point to other health issues. A dental exam can also detect poor nutrition and hygiene, growth and development problems and improper jaw alignment. It’s important to provide your dentist with a complete medical history and inform him or her of any recent health developments, even if they seem unrelated to your oral health.
At home, you can practice good oral hygiene by:
Brushing twice a day for at least two minutes, using fluoridated toothpaste.
Floss daily to remove plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach.
Eat a healthy diet to provide the nutrients necessary (vitamins A and C,) to prevent gum disease.
Avoid smoking, known to contribute to gum disease and oral cancer.
Reduce sugar intake, minimise sweet treats and sugary juices etc.
If you have any concerns about your health, please contact our practice. We look forward to seeing you and your family soon.
Australian Dental Association