The short answer is yes, it sure can.
Between forgetting to brush, especially after a sugary treat, floss, or scheduling regular dentist checkups – our dental hygiene can sometimes fall by the wayside. While forgetting to floss or brush is sometimes inevitable, it’s essential to be mindful of oral hygiene, as poor dental health can significantly impact our overall health. Still interested in hearing the long answer? Keep reading to learn about the relationship between oral and general health, how oral hygiene can affect health, along with a few tips and tricks for keeping those pearly whites healthy and clean.
The Relationship Between Oral Health & Overall Health
Our mouths offer the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. Why? Because it’s warm, dark, moist, and there’s always a steady flow of nutrients from the food and beverages. In fact, according to News In Health, there are about 700 different species of bacteria in the mouth. That’s a whole village! And unfortunately, not all bacteria were created equal. Some bacteria in the mouth help fight germs, whereas others can wreak havoc on oral health. Take streptococcus mutans, for example; it’s one of the most common villain-like bacteria in the mouth that’s the #1 suspect in tooth decay, cavities, bad breath, and periodontal disease as it uses sugar from the things we consume to produce acid and break down enamel. On the other hand, good bacteria, such as lactobacilli, support oral health and help fight off harmful bacteria.
On the topic of “good’ and “bad” bacteria News In Health shares, “When oral conditions shift, the microbial balance is disrupted, elevating the levels of specific bacterial species, which in turn encourages the pathogenesis of various diseases including dental caries, periodontitis, and endodontic infections.” In other words, when we neglect our oral health, we open Pandora’s box to a world of oral issues, including bad breath, gum infections, and tooth loss. While unruly bacteria in the mouth can cause a cascade of mouth-related health issues, it doesn’t stop there. While some bacteria might decide the mouth is their ideal home, other more daredevil-like bacteria might venture to other parts of the body by transferring through the blood vessels in our gums. This is especially the case when pathogens overgrow in the mouth as the bad or “villain-like” bacteria damage the tiny blood vessels in the gums, consequently granting access for oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
Oral Health: A Reflection of Our Overall Health
Medical News Today states, “It is important to approach “health” as a whole rather than as a series of separate factors. All types of health are linked.” This notion rings true when considering the relationship between poor oral health and systemic conditions. While research around this topic is still emerging, The Mayo Clinic has some insight into a few conditions that are linked to poor oral health, including:
- Cardiovascular Disease & Endocarditis: Bacteria from gum disease can enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation in other parts of the body, including the heart. This inflammation can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Pregnancy complications: Poor oral hygiene can lead to pregnancy complications such as premature birth. A BMC study suggests that women with periodontitis, a form of gum disease, are six times more likely to give birth to premature birth infants than women without periodontitis. This is because once the bacteria from the mouth is in the bloodstream, it can target the fetus.
- Respiratory Infections: Mayo Clinic states, “Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.”
- Diabetes: This one operates like a two-way street. People with diabetes are more prone to oral health issues and vice versa. Those with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease as their already elevated blood sugar creates an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive in the mouth. On the other hand, blood sugar levels are harder to control with gum disease, making it more difficult to manage diabetes.
- Mental Health Impacts: While there isn’t definitive evidence on this, the National Library of Medicine suggests “Greater risk for dental decay and tooth loss can lead to more frequent pain experience, social isolation, and low self-esteem, and reducing quality of life and in turn possibly being associated with poorer mental and overall health.”
Oral health is often overlooked and thought of as a separate health factor when it’s the exact opposite and can significantly impact our overall physical and mental health.
Ways to Maintain Good Oral Hygiene
Keeping the harmful bacteria at bay starts with being mindful of daily habits. As you read through these tips around maintaining good oral hygiene, we encourage you to think about what this means for you and how these tips can be implemented into your oral care routine.
- Brush Em’ Twice a Day & Use Floss: While most of us were probably taught this at a very early age, it’s important to brush and floss your teeth at least twice a day. This is to help remove food and plaque build that can cause an influx of mouth bacteria. In case you need a quick refresher on some helpful brushing and flossing techniques, check out this handy guide on Healthline.
- Wait Before You Brush: If you like to have a nice cup of coffee or some OJ to start your day, consider putting a pause on brushing your teeth for at least 30-60 minutes after finishing the beverage. Why? According to Columbia University, “The reason for that is that when acids are in the mouth, they weaken the tooth’s enamel, which is the outer layer of the tooth. Brushing immediately after consuming something acidic can damage the enamel layer of the tooth.”
- Know the Sugary Product Oral Health Offenders: Were you ever told as a kid that candy rots your teeth? Unfortunately, this holds some truth as harmful bacteria thrive on sugary products, so it’s essential to be mindful and stay vigilant of the sugary offenders. Most suspects fall under the processed foods and beverage umbrella, including sweets such as candy, pastries, sugary sodas, juices, and energy drinks.
- Be Mindful about Alcohol Intake: Penn Dental Medicine states, “Dehydration from alcohol decreases the saliva flow in your mouth and keeps bacteria from being naturally washed off of the enamel of your teeth.” While enjoying a few glasses of wine or a pint of beer is generally considered acceptable regarding oral health, it’s important to be mindful of how alcoholic beverages can impact our gums and teeth.
- Add Antiseptic Products to Oral Routine: Consider adding antiseptic mouthwash to your oral hygiene routine and incorporating oral preventative products, such as BioShell Germ Defense for Your Mouth, a product that contains Cetylpyridinium Chloride (CPC), which is known to fight and kill germs as well as treat and prevent infections in minor oral irritations.
- Visit the Dentist at least Once a Year: Regular checkups and cleanings are a must. According to the Oral Foundation, “Dentists not only solve problems, but they can also prevent them. When it comes to your oral health, it is important you are proactive and see your dentist regularly so that they can catch any issues early before they become a problem.” Consider setting a reminder on your phone, writing it down on a sticky note, texting, or emailing yourself to help stay on top of scheduling dental appointments.
A healthy, clean smile means more than what meets the eye. Now that you know why, we’d encourage you to reflect on your oral hygiene habits and what small steps you can take to improve your oral care regime.