We all know the benefits of good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing prevents tartar buildup, gingivitis, and periodontal disease with its painful, bleeding gums; it’s in all the toothpaste commercials. However, even people who brush regularly may still have bacteria hiding in their mouths, and these bacteria could lead to complications far beyond the teeth and mouth. Recent studies have shown that poor oral hygiene can cause illness in other parts of the body.
People who have diabetes are more prone to infections than non-diabetics, and this includes periodontal disease. Some studies indicate that periodontal disease and diabetes actually make each other worse; gum disease may make it more difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar. These studies also show that treating periodontal disease can help to relieve diabetes symptoms.
Periodontal disease sufferers are nearly two times more likely to be diagnosed with coronary artery disease as are people with good gum health. Research has yet to determine a cause for this tendency, but some scientists believe it has to do with the higher count of oral bacteria. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the bleeding gums. Once there, they attach to the fatty plaques building up in the arteries, leading to inflammation and an increased risk of blood clots.
The Journal of Periodontology reports that gum disease can increase the chance of respiratory infections like bronchitis, pneumonia, and even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Oral bacteria can easily be inhaled and inflame the airways and lungs.
Memory and Dementia
Poor oral health may increase a person’s chance of memory deterioration. A study of 118 nuns aged between 75 and 98 discovered that the women who had fewer teeth were more likely to have some form of dementia. Researchers theorize that oral bacteria can spread to the brain either through the bloodstream or by way of the cranial nerves which run through the jaw. Oral bacteria may contribute to the development of the neural plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
How can you improve your oral hygiene and lower your health risks?
Keeping your mouth clean is the key. “Your teeth and gums should not bleed, be painful, or feel rough or sharp to your tongue,” explains registered dental hygienist Pam Atherton. “Your breath should be fresh for at least a couple of hours after brushing in the morning.” Here are some dentist-recommended techniques which can help improve oral health.
1. Don’t use too hard of a toothbrush. Brushes with hard and medium bristles can damage the teeth by scraping away the enamel over time and by hurting the tender gums. “Gum tissue can’t make a callous,” Atherton points out. The loss of enamel and gum tissue eventually exposes the root below the tooth and leads to sensitivity, pain, and possible bone loss in the jaw. Dentists and hygienists recommend toothbrushes with soft or extra soft bristles.
2. Floss before brushing. Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, DMD, a professor of periodontology at the University of Philadelphia School of Dental Medicine, explains that brushing after flossing helps to brush away any of the particles removed by flossing. For people who have difficulties using plain floss, Atherton recommends floss holders or floss picks.
3. Use proper brushing technique. Teeth should be brushed for a full two minutes, according to Atherton. “Make sure you brush your tongue and cheeks as well as the chewing surfaces to improve the removal of harmful bacteria in the crevices,” she says. Children can try brushing for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” or “The Alphabet Song” twice through at normal speed for each half of their mouths. Toothbrushes should be replaced every three months.
4. Rinse with a mouthwash. People who rinse twice a day cut their risk of gum disease by 60 percent, according to Jeffcoat. The best mouthwash to use is one which has microbial protection against plaque, and the rinsing should last for about 30 seconds.
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