Dr Budi Aslinie Bt Md Sabri Senior Lecturer, Centre of Population Oral Health & Clinical Prevention Studies, Faculty of Dentistry
Oral health is essential to general health. While most of us are aware that good oral health allows us to eat properly, adds to the attractiveness of our smile and contributes to our self-esteem and general well-being, many of us may not know that problems in our mouth can affect the rest of our body.
Having a "dirty mouth" or "bad-mouth" may not only be detrimental to your social health, but also to your physical health (pun intended!). Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
- Diabetes. Periodontitis and diabetes have a link that can result in a vicious cycle. Periodontitis (infection of the gums) can worsen diabetes as it impairs the body’s ability to use available insulin. High levels of blood sugar, a result of diabetes provides the ideal conditions in the body for infections to take place, so the worse the diabetes, the greater the chances of periodontitis will develop… which then, further worsen the diabetes!
- Cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that people with moderate or advanced periodontal disease are more likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with healthy gums. It has been suggested that inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation in the blood vessels, subsequently reducing the amount of blood travelling between the heart and the rest of the body and, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
- Pregnancy and birth. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause periodontal inflammation can actually get into the bloodstream and target the foetus a woman is carrying, potentially leading to premature labour and babies with low birth-weight.
- Alzheimer's disease. Be careful about losing your teeth before the age of 35 – this is found to be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease! Tooth loss and inflammation related to periodontal disease may accelerate unintentional weight loss and muscle wasting, which in turn could accelerate the degeneration of brain cells (neurodegeneration) that can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Other conditions. Periodontal disease may worsen pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, possibly by increasing the amount of bacteria in the lungs.
So let’s get down to it!
Now that you understand the intimate connection between oral health and overall health, here are 5 simple ways you can improve your oral health.
- Brush for two to three minutes, twice a day, with a fluoridated toothpaste. Be sure to remove all food debris and plaque especially along the gumline.
- Floss daily. Use the dental-floss or the inter-dental brushes regularly to clean between teeth (these are areas where normal brushes will not be able to reach). Using an antimicrobial mouth rinse can also help to reduce the bacteria in your mouth.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet; reduce the frequency and quantity of your sugar intake. If you are still in need of your dessert, have it during meal times.
- Carefully follow your physician's and dentist’s instructions regarding your own healthcare, including using the prescribed medications, such as antibiotics (always do as directed).
- Do not smoke. If you are a smoker, you can ask your dentist for help to quit smoking. Most dentists offer smoking cessation advice.
Remember, a healthy mouth leads to a healthy body!