Watch your mouth!

Poor oral hygiene can cause, or even worsen, a host of health problems including heart and lung disease

pretty woman touching her mouthOur mouth is the window to our health. Doctors gauge a patient’s general health with the help of a physical examination of the mouth because it alerts them to the presence of diseases like diabetes or habits like smoking.

However, most of us are oblivious to the two-way connection between our oral health and our overall health.

Poor oral hygiene makes our mouth a breeding ground for bacteria and aggravates pre-existing health conditions. Similarly, some chronic diseases too make the mouth more prone to infections.

Here, we explore some such connections…

The mouth-heart disease connection

Having a gum [periodontal] disease doubles your chances of coronary artery disease as compared to those who have healthy gums.

In people suffering from periodontitis [disease affecting the gums], there is a chance of the bacteria getting into the bloodstream while chewing and brushing. They then bond with the cholesterol plaque present in the blood vessels of the heart, which leads to formation of clots, which in turn may cause heart attack.

Another way oral bacteria can cause clots is by releasing toxins that are akin to the proteins in the bloodstream or walls of the arteries. These toxins interact with our immune system that can cause harm to the walls of vessels.

The mouth-diabetes connection

woman at a dentistDiabetics are more prone to infections than non-diabetics. This also increases their risk of developing gum disease [it is in fact yet another complication of diabetes]. Not keeping your blood sugar under control increases your risk of gum disease.

Similarly, having periodontal disease makes it more difficult for you to keep your sugar levels in check, making it a vicious circle. The severity of the gum disease is directly proportional to your sugar levels and vice versa, which means, the worse the gum disease, the higher your sugar levels can be.

And because of this, diabetics have elevated sugar levels for longer, which increases their risk of developing diabetes-related complications. So, if you are a diabetic with a gum disease, get your gum disease treated and your sugar back in the safe range, pronto.

The mouth-lung disease connection

One of the ways in which you can get a bacterial infection in your respiratory tract is through your mouth. Tiny droplets in your mouth and throat may have germs.

These droplets when inhaled, reach your lungs and the bacteria on them multiply, causing harm. And if you have an existing lung condition, they make matters worse. Similarly, the bacteria in your oral cavity too, easily reach your respiratory tract or lungs, causing diseases like pneumonia.

The mouth-osteoporosis connection

Osteoporosis is characterised by decreased bone density and weakened bones. The condition often goes undetected till that fatal fall, which is when it is literally ‘accidentally’ discovered.

However, it can be caught in time through a dental check-up. Loose teeth, severe gum disease, ill-fitting dentures and difficulty in eating or speech are all signs of decreasing bone density. So, regular visits to your dentist are a must.

The mouth-pregnancy connection

Pregnant women with gum disease have a seven times more chance of premature delivery—gum disease causes the body to increase the secretion of fluids that induce labour.

Researchers are unsure about how this happens. However, they have found that worsening of the disease during pregnancy increases the risk of an early delivery.

Keep your mouth clean

  • Brush twice a day for at least five minutes using short, gentle strokes. Focus on the base of the gums and hard to reach areas like the back of the mouth.
  • Rinse with an anti-microbial mouthwash twice a day. Teeth constitute only 25 per cent of the mouth, simply brushing isn’t enough. An anti-microbial mouthwash reaches tight spaces between teeth and protects the entire mouth. The anti-bacterial property of the mouthwash also prevents plaque formation that can lead to periodontal disease.
  • Floss regularly to remove food that gets stuck between the teeth.
  • Limit your intake of starchy and sugary foods like cookies, pastries, junk food, aerated drinks, and drink plenty of water.
  • Visit your dentist once every six months for a complete screening and proper cleaning of teeth. This ensures your mouth is plaque and cavity free.
Dr C D Dwarakanath is former president of Indian Society of Periodontology.


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