Did you know that dental decay is the second most costly diet-related disease in Australia comparable in cost with heart disease and diabetes? As per Health Expenditure in Australia 2015-2016 report (accessible from the AIHW website), approximately $10 billion was spent on dental services. However, dental decay and gum diseases remain a major health problem.
Oral health is fundamental to overall health, well-being, and quality of life. Evidence shows that oral health can also influence general health. This means that not taking care of your mouth not just can lead to dental problems, but far worse problems with your general body health. From affecting your brain to your heart, lungs, or kidneys, poor dental health has been linked to several different conditions in organs around the body.
A healthy mouth enables people to eat, speak, and socialise without pain, discomfort, or embarrassment. Poor dental health means that the bacteria in your mouth have easy access to the digestive and respiratory tracts and thereby the circulatory system.
What are the possible problems due to poor oral health?
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
It has been reported that tooth loss due to bacterial activity has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Bacteria that cause inflammation and gingivitis can migrate to the brain and increase instances of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. From a study conducted on Japanese patients, it has been found that those with fewer or no teeth were much more likely to have experienced some memory loss or have early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Cardiovascular disease is a common and serious disease in Australia with about 3.5 million people reporting having the condition in 2007-08. Studies reported about a decade ago demonstrated that both periodontal disease and teeth loss was associated with greater risk for cardiovascular disease.
Endocarditis is an infection in the inner lining of the heart, the chambers or valves and is typically caused by bacteria from another part of the body (such as the mouth) getting into the bloodstream and entering the heart. Oral inflammation has also been linked to increased instances of a heart attack which suggests that it could potentially be a more serious risk factor than heavy smoking.
Cancer and respiratory disease are major causes of death in developed countries. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to increased instances of lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia due to bacteria entering the lungs from the mouth.
After heart disease, stroke is the second most important consequence because of the hardening of the arteries, usually due to fatty deposits lining the blood vessel walls. Studies have found that poor dental health is associated with stroke. Bacteria from the mouth have been commonly been found in the brains of stroke victims.
Oral inflammation has been linked to kidney stress and even kidney failure in some cases is suspected to be due to bacteria from the mouth migrating to the kidneys. Periodontal disease and poor oral health are common in patients with chronic kidney disease. Dental problems can be severe in people with chronic kidney disease because of advanced age and other existing diseases such as diabetes, medications, and reduced immunity which will in turn increase the chances of periodontitis and other oral problems. Kidney recipients are required to have a complete dental check because the anti-rejection drugs given to transplant patients lower the immune system making people more susceptible to infection.
Research has shown that people with gum disease have a more difficult time regulating blood sugar levels potentially leading to diabetes. On the other hand, people with diabetes are susceptible to gum disease because they have reduced resistance to infection. Periodontal disease is often considered the ‘sixth complication’ of diabetes. Maintaining good oral hygiene could be an aid in controlling diabetes. Oral bacteria have also been linked with pancreatic cancer.
Poor oral health is one of the causes of mouth cancer, and many of the symptoms can be similar to gingivitis or periodontitis. Smoking and heavy drinking are two of the more serious risk factors for oral cancer. It is suggested that people with periodontal disease while chewing and brushing teeth may also release harmful bacteria into the bloodstream.
Osteoporosis or weakening of bones is linked to both tooth loss and periodontal bone loss. Periodontitis causes the gums to pull away from the teeth leading to pain, tooth loss, and potential bone damage.
Adverse Pregnancy Problems
Researchers think that bacteria from periodontitis may affect the health of the pregnant uterus leading to low birth weight and premature contractions. It is also suggested that babies born prematurely are at significant risk of developing serious and lasting health problems. Pregnant women are hormonally more likely to develop or worsen existing periodontal disease and this will affect about 3 out of every 4 pregnant women. In turn, this exposes them to an increased risk of premature birth.
Take care of your mouth and it can literally take care of you!
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