Open wide for a closer look at your overall health
Posted on 23 September 2019
Problems in your mouth can negatively impact the rest of your body, overall health and oral hygiene. Taking care of your teeth and gums protects you from far more than dental decay and gum disease. A key indicator of overall health, wellbeing and quality of life, oral health is “a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral infection and sores, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that limit an individual’s capacity in biting, chewing, smiling, speaking and psychosocial wellbeing,” explains the World Health Organization.
A window into the rest of your body, it provides signals of general health disorders, such as the first signs of HIV/ AIDS infection. Additionally, poor oral health can be a risk factor for many disorders. It’s well-documented that infective endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves, is often caused by bacteria that colonise teeth and gums. Although the connection is not yet understood, recent studies suggest that oral bacteria and inflammation from a severe form of gum disease (periodontitis) may increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, such as hardened arteries, heart attack or stroke.
WHAT’S THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOUR ORAL AND YOUR GENERAL HEALTH?
“Your mouth is the most important gateway into your body, both for your respiratory and digestive systems,” says Dr Cameron Condie, a dental surgeon at Mediclinic Morningside and Smile Design Studio in Johannesburg.
Your mouth can act as a portal for infection and inflammation to other parts of your body too. “For example, any breach of your oral mucosa (the membrane lining protecting the
inside of your mouth) during a tooth extraction or even deep cleaning, allows organisms to enter your bloodstream,” Dr Condie explains. “Normally this isn’t a problem, but care needs to be taken with certain patients, like those with prosthetic heart valves, prosthetic joints or certain cardiac defects, as harmful bacteria could cause chronic infection and disorders, such as endocarditis. These patients require antibiotics to cover the period of any invasive procedure.”
Your mouth may also reveal the first signs of disease, which is why dentists examine it for any unusual growths during a routine check-up.
SEVERE PERIODONTAL DISEASE IS ESTIMATED TO BE THE 11TH MOST PREVALENT DISEASE GLOBALLY BY THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION.
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOUR ORAL HEALTH IN ALL LIFE STAGES?
“Good oral hygiene begins from the minute a baby’s first teeth arrive, which should initially be cleaned regularly with baby wipes and then slowly introduce a soft paediatric toothbrush and a child-specific toothpaste. I advise parents to try a variety of toothpastes to find out which one is most liked, as we want to make the early brushing experience as pleasant as possible,” he advises. Like you, they should get into the routine of brushing their teeth twice a day and flossing all of their teeth daily. “It’s crucial too that you see your oral hygienist or dentist every six months, eat a healthy diet and control your sugar intake, and stop smoking,” adds Dr Condie.
Elderly patients present with different oral challenges, such as losing dexterity, so Dr Condie advises they use electric toothbrushes, and a water pick or similar device instead of flossing. “Dry mouth can often be a problem in elderly patients too, so it’s best they visit an oral hygienist a lot more frequently to deal with this and their overall oral hygiene.”
WHICH DISORDERS ARE LINKED TO ORAL HEALTH?
GUM HEALTH IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT AS DISEASED GUMS ARE RISK FACTORS FOR MANY CONDITIONS, SAYS DR CONDIE. THESE INCLUDE:
- Atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries due to plaque build-up, which can lead to heart disease
- Premature births and low birth weights
- Respiratory diseases like pneumonia
“Periodontal disease has also been linked to other systemic diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, kidney disease and various types of cancer,” says Dr Condie.
DISEASES THAT COMPROMISE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM IN TURN MAKE YOU MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO ORAL CAVITY INFECTION, INCLUDING:
- Diabetes: “Diabetic patients, particularly those who are poorly controlled, are at higher risk of oral infection and conversely, active infections can affect blood sugar levels,” explains Dr Condie.
- HIV/AIDS: “As HIV-positive patients’ viral load increases and they become immune compromised, they’ll begin to su er from opportunistic oral infections,” he says.