“There is increasing evidence showing a link between oral health and general health,” says dentist Susan Filippi. “Your mouth is part of your body, so it just makes sense to take care of your oral health.” Beyond your teeth and gums, here are five surprising reasons why oral care matters for a healthy body.
1. Healthy gums for a healthier heart
Studies link oral inflammatory disease and elevated heart disease risk. People with periodontal disease are at greater risk of heart disease and have twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack than people without periodontal disease.
Gum disease from extended bacterial exposure can lead to cardiovascular disease as it may increase the inflammation level throughout the body. Inflammation is a major risk factor for heart disease. Your dentist or hygienist should ask you about your heart health and family history of heart disease and conversely, cardiologists should examine your oral health. A problem in one area may signal trouble in the other.
2. A healthy mouth could mean a healthier pregnancy
Regular checkups with a dentist and hygienist become even more important during pregnancy. There are ongoing studies examining whether pregnant women with poor oral health may be at higher risk of delivering preterm, low birth weight babies than pregnant women with good oral health.
Babies born preterm or with a low birth weight have a higher risk of complications including developmental problems, asthma, ear infections, birth abnormalities, behavioral difficulties and may have a higher risk of infant death. Women who are pregnant should take extra care to keep their teeth at their best, not just for themselves, but for their babies too.
3. There’s a two-way link between gum disease and diabetes
While it’s known that people with diabetes are more prone to gum disease, surprising new studies suggest that serious gum disease may actually contribute to diabetes as it affects blood glucose control. The Canadian Diabetes Association says, “Because periodontal disease is an infection, bacteria produce toxins that affect the carbohydrate metabolism in individual cells. It is also thought that the host response to periodontal bacteria can increase insulin resistance and, therefore, blood glucose levels.” This two-way link is a wake-up call to take care of your teeth, especially since the incidence of diabetes is rising.
4. Detect oral cancer before you have symptoms
As part of regular checkups, dentists check all soft tissues to ensure they are healthy. Says Dr. Filippi: “all dentists are trained to do a cancer screening as part of ongoing dental checkups, by inspecting the gums, tongue, lips and cheeks for anything suspicious or any unusual changes.”
A precancerous lesion can begin as a small white or dark red patch that may not be causing you any noticeable symptoms. Your dentist has the expert skill and training that can provide lifesaving early detection. Keep in mind that only about one-half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer survive more than five years, so detecting early signs of the disease is crucial.
5. Trying to lose weight? Here’s a secret trick.
Brushing your teeth signals you have finished eating and may help with portion control. Use this trick to your advantage. Have a healthy meal and then, before you are tempted to overeat or indulge in sweet desserts, go and brush your teeth. This will tell your appetite that mealtime is over.
While brushing cleans your teeth and freshens your breath, not much tastes good right after brushing with minty toothpaste. Don’t wait until bedtime to brush, either; try brushing early in the evening, right after dinner, to thwart late-night snack cravings.