The last decade has seen an increase in public awareness of just how important our dental and oral health are. We know that taking care of our teeth and gums can allows us to eat well, start the digestion process properly and have a nice, bright smile.
But there are many other reasons why oral health is important. Not getting proper oral health care can lead to other health conditions, including something as serious as cancer.
Let's take a look at five other reasons that oral health is vital.
Neck, oral, mouth and head cancers are on the rise. While smoking is still a factor in these kinds of cancers, the rise of the HPV virus is also looming large.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer in women, and other cancers in men and women like rectal cancer, as well as oral cancers (from oral sex). Men who are now in their 50s are seeing a rise in oral and throat cancers from sexual behaviors in their younger years.
The news publication AZ Central interviewed Dr. Randy Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer is a board certified otolaryngologist/head and neck surgeon that specializes in the treatment of cancer in the head and neck region at Maricopa Integrated Health System in Arizona.
When asked about why oral and throat cancers are on the rise, he said that “...the principal risk factor is exposure to the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). More people are developing throat cancer because of prior exposure to the HPV virus. HPV is a group of more than 150 types of viruses, usually associated with benign growths called papillomas or warts. However, certain strains are not so benign and have been associated with different types of cancer, such a cervical cancer in women. HPV 16 is linked to both cervical cancer and throat cancer.”
Just like quitting cigarettes is a good idea to avoid some cancers, practicing safer (oral) sex can help avoid some of these neck and oral cancers.
Symptoms of these cancers can include sore throats, swollen glands, difficulty swallowing and pain in the mouth.
Because many sufferers may put these symptoms down to a flu-like virus or dental/gum decay, a dentist can be one of the first in line to see that something more serious may be going on.
It’s important to tell your dentist of any mouth or throat discomfort. He or she can examine you properly and refer you to the appropriate medical professional.
While poor oral health cannot cause diabetes, oral care can help to diagnose diabetes itself. Dentists are not just trained in tooth and gum care, they are also trained to look for symptoms that may be detrimental to overall health.
Excessive plaque can be a sign of diabetes because high blood sugar can decrease the mouth's ability to fight off germs. If inflammation in the mouth causes gum disease, it can make it harder to keep your blood sugar level low.
Bad breath and loose teeth can also signal diabetes. If you are experiencing bad oral health, talk to your dentist and doctor about possible causes.
Tooth Loss can Mean Poor Nutrition
Most adults in the United States have cavities. But really poor oral health can hinder a person’s ability to eat well as multiple or total tooth loss can decrease a person’s ability to have a varied diet. Some people with tooth loss and gum disease tend to stick with a restrictive diet that tends to lessen the opportunity for a complete and nutritious regimen.
Weakened Immune System
Inflammation of the gums can affect the body’s overall immune system. A study done by the University of Pennsylvania showed that gum disease affects our immune systems.
Researchers found that P. gingivalis, one of the bacteria that causes gingivitis (a form of gum disease) was a keystone pathogen in causing immune disorders.
“Scientists are beginning to suspect that keystone pathogens might be playing a role in irritable bowel disease, colon cancer and other inflammatory diseases,” lead author of the study George Hajishengallis said.
“They’re bugs that can’t mediate the disease on their own; they need other, normally non-pathogenic bacteria to cause the inflammation.”
A healthy immune system is crucial to fighting off infections, viruses and many serious conditions.
Mental Health and Self-Esteem
Bad teeth, broken, cracked, and yellow/brown teeth as well as no teeth at all can cause a person’s self-esteem enormous damage. A person’s smile is what lights up their face.
People are known for their smiles, as much as any other physical characteristic. To hide a smile, to try to smile with a closed mouth and to eventually show bad or rotted out teeth, is emotionally very difficult.
This can lead to lowered self-esteem and self-image, with people feeling like they are worth less than their peers. Healthy teeth and a white, bright smile can do wonders for a person.
It’s so important to treat oral health like our physical and mental health. All aspects of our bodies and minds join to create a healthy body and mind. Seeing a dentist once or twice a year can keep not just our mouths healthy, but our entire selves.
AZCentral.com. “Head and neck cancer is on the rise”. Web. Retrieved December 15th, 2014.
Diabetes.org. Oral Health and Hygiene. Warning Signs. Web. Retrieved December 15th, 2014.
University of Pennsylvania. Penn News. “Gum Disease Bacteria Selectively Disarm Immune System, Penn Study Finds”. Retrieved December 15th, 2014.
Reviewed December 22, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith