Oral health is linked to physical and mental health in a variety of ways. A healthy mouth is associated with increased confidence and positive social interactions. Individuals who feel good about their teeth tend to feel more comfortable speaking and smiling in front of other people. In addition, a healthy mouth enables full functionality of the jaw and teeth for chewing a wide variety of foods as part of a nutritious and balanced diet.
The Mouth is a Window to the Body
When health concerns arise, the mouth serves as a window to the rest of the body. Symptoms such as bleeding gums, bad breath, and mouth sores can be indicative of health disorders such as HIV, diabetes, blood or digestive disorders, osteoporosis, and other ailments. To support the diagnosis of health disorders, saliva tests can detect compounds such as toxins, antibodies, hormones, nicotine, and other drugs.
How Saliva Supports Immunity
In addition to serving as a diagnostic aid, a healthy mouth can help protect you from illness by fending off viruses and disease-causing organisms. Saliva contains antibodies which help prevent illness and protect against naturally-occurring bacteria in the mouth. If left uncontrolled, bacteria in the mouth cause plaque build-up, leading to issues such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Plaque and Tartar Build-up
When brushing and flossing are neglected, plaque can accumulate on the teeth and along the gumline. Once plaque hardens into tartar it can no longer be removed by brushing and must be scraped away through professional scaling at the dental office. When left untreated, plaque and tartar build-up leads to gingivitis (infection of the gums). Sometimes dental procedures or even brushing or flossing can disrupt the gum tissue and create an entry point for bacteria to get into the bloodstream. This can lead to infection, especially in individuals with a weakened immune system.
Complications from Gum Disease
Advanced gum disease, or periodontitis, has been linked with health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and pre-term birth. Some research has shown associations between gum disease and:
- Increased risk of head and neck cancer
- Difficulty controlling diabetes
- Clogged arteries and blood clots
- Inflammation in the body and arteries
- Preterm birth and low birth weight
How to Prevent Oral Health Issues
There are several simple steps you can take to optimize your oral health and overall health:
- Brush and floss regularly
- Eat a healthy balanced diet with a variety of whole foods
- Use a fluoride mouth rinse
- Visit your family dentist regularly
- Report any unusual oral health symptoms to your dentist
- Avoid smoking and other tobacco products
It is always a good idea to maintain good oral health habits. The links between oral health and general wellbeing are even more reason to make sure you look after your teeth and gums as part of a healthy lifestyle. If you have any questions or concerns about your oral health, book an appointment with your family dentist or discuss your questions you have during your next check-up.