Our parents, our dentists and popular culture have always touted the benefits of great oral health care — brushing your teeth, flossing regularly, and visiting your dentist at least twice a year.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that good oral care extends beyond your teeth, gums and mouth. Here are some studies that suggest that good oral health can also help reduce heart disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.
Heart Disease and Gum Disease
People who have gum disease are two to three times more likely to have heart disease, according to Harvard Health Publishing, although there may not be a direct link. Harvard suggests that people who don’t follow good oral health likely don’t follow other overall good health practices, which is why there is a link between people who have gum disease (periodontitis) and people who have heart disease.
With that said, how, then, does good oral health contribute to good cardiac health? Oral health extends beyond merely brushing and flossing your teeth. It also involves decreasing your sugar intake, quitting smoking, and losing weight. There are some studies that suggest that inflammation in the mouth can cause or worsen inflammation of blood vessels. Also, an increase in plaque in the mouth has a link to plaque in blood vessels.
Bottom line: Practicing good oral health care can lower your risks for gum disease and heart disease.
Osteoporosis and Oral Care
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become less dense and more brittle. It is more common among older people, and more common among women than men. One of the risks with osteoporosis is fractures.
According to the NIH’s Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, there is a strong connection between bone loss (osteoporosis) and tooth loss. In fact, women who have osteoporosis are three times more likely to lose their teeth as well.
Does one cause the other? The NIH says that isn’t clear. There’s a link but not necessarily a cause and effect. People who do not eat good diets are more likely to experience osteoporosis and periodontitis.
Bottom line: Visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups, cleanings, and X-rays. Board certified dentists are trained to identify signs of bone decay, which can be a signal of bone loss throughout the skeletal system.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Dental Care
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, pain and swelling in the body’s tissues and joints.
The research here is less about whether there is a direct link or cause-and-effect relationship between RA and oral health. It’s more about how practicing good oral health is even more important for people who suffer from autoimmune diseases.
An article published on Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center explains that some medications that RA patients take can also cause some mouth ulcers and other oral problems. That is why it is very important to brush and floss your teeth, as well as use a high quality mouthwash that not only protects against plaque buildup but also contains fluoride to promote remineralization.
Bottom line: Everyone should practice good oral health, but it is especially important for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other autoimmune diseases in order to prevent the spread of infections and tooth decay.
Diabetes and Oral Health
While poor oral hygiene does not cause diabetes, it is important for people who have diabetes or are at risk for it to step up their dental care. Why? Diabetes sufferers are at higher risk for periodontal disease. Also, diabetes slows healing, so healthy gums and teeth lessen the risk for infection or diseases that originate in your mouth.
Bottom line: If you have diabetes or are at risk for it, step up your brushing, flossing and preventive dental care. Good oral health care could be the difference between living well with diabetes and struggling with it.
Healthy Mouth, Healthy You
The American Dental Association recommends the following for your oral health:
● Brush your teeth twice a day.
● Floss or use an interdental cleaner (like a dental pick) once a day.
● Add an alcohol-free mouthwash if needed, as per your dentist.
● See your dentist twice a year for regular checkups, cleanings and X-rays.
● Don’t smoke.
● See your dentist if you note signs of gum disease (bleeding, swelling, tenderness, odor).