Many people think that taking care of their teeth is about as important as taking care of their hair or skin – it’s nice to do if you care about your appearance, but it doesn't matter too much for your health.
Unfortunately, that common belief couldn't be further from the truth. In reality, the health of your mouth and teeth is intimately connected to your overall health.
Not only can your dentist detect other health issues just be looking at your mouth, but poor oral care can actually cause problems in other parts of your body. Read on to learn more.
What Your Teeth Tell
When a dentist peers into your mouth, they see a lot more than just your teeth. Some might even say that your mouth is the window to your health. So, don’t be surprised if it’s your dentist, and not your doctor, who is the one who tells you to go see a specialist for tests. Here are a few health conditions that have been shown to be connected to your mouth:
• Diabetes – As type 2 diabetes develops when you’re an adult, it’s possible that you can have it without knowing it yet. If that’s the case, your dentist may be the first one to spot it. Because the condition lowers the ability to resist infection, someone with diabetes may have increased incidence of gum disease.
But it’s more than that – if you have inflammation in the mouth due to poor oral care, it can actually make it even harder for your body to process sugar, which is the main challenge of diabetes. So, oral health issues and diabetes have a direct cause and effect relationship. When one worsens, so does the other. But on the up side, you can improve one through treating the other.
• Heart Disease – There is still much to be discovered about the connection between oral health and heart disease, but it’s clear that there is a distinct link. As many as 91% of heart disease sufferers also have periodontists, a serious gum disease that often leads to tooth loss.
Some say that the 2 conditions merely have the same risk factors that can lead to both conditions, but there’s also a theory that inflammation in the mouth leads to more inflammation in the blood vessels, which can lead to heart attack.
• Oral Cancer – It won’t be a surprise to you that dentists are the ones who can best spot signs of oral cancer. This is a type of cancer that is extremely common, but not nearly as publicized as many other types. You may not notice anything amiss, but it’s easy for your dentist to spot signs and do a screening to check for irregularities.
• Pancreatic Cancer – Recent studies have also shown a clear correlation between gum disease and pancreatic cancer. It’s unclear whether there’s a causal relationship, but it’s been shown that men with a history of periodontal disease had an increased likelihood of developing this type of cancer.
• Leukemia – Though it’s still unclear exactly why, early signs of leukemia can often be seen in the mouth. Swollen, bleeding gums and gingivitis combined with unexplained weight loss will prompt a doctor or dentist to request tests for this very dangerous type of cancer.
• Gum Disease – Periodontal disease is one of the most common health conditions in adults, and it’s also one of the most easily prevented. Everyone has bacteria in their mouths, which is why daily brushing and flossing are both so important. But even if you have great oral hygiene habits, you can still have plaque that becomes hard-to-remove tartar, and only a professional cleaning can remove that.
If it’s not removed, however, a buildup of tartar can result in gingivitis or the more serious periodontists, which ultimately may lead to tooth loss. Risk factors include, poor hygiene habits, smoking, diabetes, and even genetic susceptibility.
How You Can Help
The good news is that many of the health conditions that are caused or exacerbated by the health of your mouth can be prevented. Here’s how:
• Brushing – Although most of us can’t even remember a time before we were brushing our own teeth, many adults don’t do it properly. To really take care of your teeth, it’s necessary to brush well at least twice a day.
And when you do, be sure that you’re using proper techniques to brush for at least 2 minutes. Try setting a timer on your phone to ensure that you’re getting the job done. If you’re able to brush after every meal, all the better – if not, pop in a piece of sugar-free chewing gum after you eat instead.
• Flossing -Even the best brushing can’t remove all the bacteria and tartar from your teeth, which is why flossing at least once a day is so crucial. If you've ignored the practice for a while, your gums may bleed a bit, but that doesn't mean you should stop. If the bleeding continues for more than 2 weeks of regular flossing, however, you should visit your dentist.
• Nutrition – It’s important to know that part of your dental health comes from what you eat. As you know, sugary and starchy foods and drinks can wreak serious havoc on your teeth and should be avoided as much as possible. When you do indulge in a treat that isn't good for your teeth, just be sure to brush as soon afterwards as you can.
• Dental Check-Ups – One of the very best ways to prevent dental health issues from becoming more serious is to visit your dentist every 6 months for a professional cleaning and check-up. There are many oral health issues which are virtually unnoticeable, so it’s crucial that your teeth and gums are examined regularly by a dentist, who can spot early signs and recommend treatment.
No part of our health exists in a vacuum; the human body is one interconnected system. So it makes perfect sense that the health of our mouths is so closely linked to other health conditions.
Taking good care of your teeth and gums isn't rocket science, but it does take a commitment to daily habits that have long-term benefits. Keeping up with good practices will give you pretty pearly whites and good overall health.
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