Can oral health affect well-being?

There is now convincing evidence that oral health and general well-being are connected. In particular, gum disease and extensive tooth loss are being increasingly linked with other health complications.

The condition of our mouth can also affect us psychologically. Maintaining good oral hygiene and showing clean, well-cared-for teeth when you smile can boost your self-esteem. Our teeth can influence how we look, speak, eat, chew, taste, socialise, and enjoy life. If you have a healthy mouth, you are more likely to have greater self-confidence.

Mental health and poor oral hygiene

Teeth that look good can encourage a positive state of mind because they inspire confidence, and a willingness to smile more. People with mental health problems, such as depression, are less likely to focus on their oral health and may have emotional and self-image problems. The very nature of depression can impact on a person’s oral hygiene, often due to a decreased concern for their own well-being. Exercise and diet can be neglected and healthy meal choices replaced by comfort sugary foods that contribute to dental decay. The routine of cleaning teeth may also be overlooked, which can lead to problems such as gum disease.

What causes gum disease?

If you don’t brush or floss your teeth, you can risk giving bacteria time to multiply in your mouth. Most of the bacteria are harmless, but without adequate oral hygiene, unhealthy levels can be reached, which cause problems such as peridontitis (gum disease) and tooth decay.

Certain medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants can also contribute to increased bacteria in the mouth. All of these drugs reduce saliva flow. Saliva is important because it helps to wash away food and neutralises acids, protecting your mouth from bacteria.

How does the health of my mouth affect the rest of my body?

Your teeth and gums can often provide clues to the state of your health and highlight any problems. The obvious signs of poor dental hygiene are gum disease, cavities, bad breath, missing and discoloured teeth. But gum disease isn’t just bad news for your teeth. If you don’t take proper care with your oral cleaning routine, you could face far more serious consequences than a toothache or some unsightly stains. Gum disease may increase your risk of other health problems.

When people have periodontitis, bacteria from the mouth can cause infection in other parts of the body. This can complicate an existing health issue or may even cause a new one. Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr. Nigel Carter OBE, comments, “The link between oral health and overall body health is well documented and backed by robust scientific evidence. Despite this, only one in six people realises that people with gum disease may have an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only one in three is aware of the heart disease link.”

Poor dental health may contribute to a number of conditions:

Heart disease – gum disease is caused by bacteria from plaque build-up. The bacteria associated with periodontitis can enter the bloodstream via bleeding gums. It produces protein, which can cause platelets in the blood to stick together in the blood vessels of the heart. This can lead to the risk of blood clots forming, which reduce normal blood flow, possibly resulting in a heart attack.

Stroke – when bacteria that cause gum disease enter the bloodstream, the protein produced can cause inflammation of the blood vessels. The inflammatory response is believed to gradually cause damage and can block the blood supply to the brain, which could cause a stroke.

Diabetes – diabetes weakens your ability to fight infection, which can increase your chances of developing gum disease. If you have diabetes, you may be more likely to suffer from tooth loss.

Respiratory (lung) disease – people with gum disease and poor oral hygiene have more bacteria in their mouths. This can cause bacterial chest infections, such as pneumonia.

Dementia – studies of older adults found tooth loss was associated with an increased risk of dementia.

Premature birth – pregnant women are also at increased risk of gum disease due to hormonal changes and increased blood flow. There is evidence of a link between gum disease and low birth weight, premature babies.

What about missing teeth?
Missing teeth will often add to a poor sense of self-worth. Gaps in your mouth can affect your overall well-being and your oral health. We tend to think about teeth as individual units, but in fact, they make up a complete system. Teeth work together in harmony and problems can occur when they don’t. Replacing them will help improve your appearance, restore your smile and enable you to speak and eat normally again. The treatments available for missing teeth are:

Bridges – a typical bridge consists of a filler tooth that is attached to two adjacent crowns. The bridge is then bonded into the mouth.

Dentures – dentures are removable appliances for spaces where teeth used to be. They are made from metal and acrylic plastic. Plastic dentures rest on gum, while those made of metal are supported by some or all remaining natural teeth. Partial dentures are used when some natural teeth remain and complete dentures are used when all the teeth are missing.

Dental implants – dental implants are permanent replacements for failing or missing teeth roots. They are the only method of replacing the whole tooth. This is achieved by using titanium supports in place of the root beneath replacement teeth, such as crowns, bridges, and dentures. You can use implants to replace a single tooth or several teeth.

How do I keep my mouth and gums healthy?
With proper care, your teeth and gums can stay healthy throughout your life. According to the Oral Health Foundation, the following simple steps can help prevent most dental problems:

  • Brushing your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with a fluoride toothpaste
  • Cleaning between the teeth with ’interdental’ brushes or floss at least once a day
  • Good eating habits – having sugary foods and drinks less often
  • Regular dental check-ups

If you didn’t already have enough reasons to take good care of your oral health, the connection between a healthy mouth and healthy body provides even more.

Photo by Suzana Sousa on Unsplash