Oral health is often neglected and overlooked in America. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), while 77% of people said they planned to visit the dentist in the next year, only 37% had been the year before. Due to a lack of prevention and proper oral hygiene, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among adolescents, and periodontal disease affects one in every two adults.
Maintaining oral health is not only essential in preventing tooth decay and gum disease, but it can also prevent a long list of serious and occasionally life-threatening diseases. Beyond the potentially serious health risks, poor oral hygiene is a source of embarrassment for nearly one in four Americans and can lead to a reduction in social interactions and even smiling.
In this guide, the goal is to highlight the importance of maintaining oral health and how it relates to both major chronic diseases and day-to-day emotional well-being.
Chronic Diseases Associated with Poor Oral Health
Poor oral hygiene can encourage a build-up of harmful bacteria, excess plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease — all of which can lead to many serious chronic diseases. Here are some of the most serious illnesses associated with poor oral health.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
Studies have shown that both periodontal disease and total loss of teeth are linked with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Other research indicates that oral bacterial build-up can lead to clogged arteries and heart disease. To help prevent the build-up of potentially deadly bacteria, brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes, floss once daily, and use an antimicrobial mouthwash or rinse.
Like cardiovascular disease, strokes can be caused by a build-up of threatening bacteria found in excess plaque. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the gums and become part of the fatty plaque that builds in blood vessels and can cause a stroke.
Tooth loss and severe periodontal disease are among the oral health issues that are often associated with diabetes. Because diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, people with the disease are at an elevated risk of gum diseases. Research shows that people with gum disease have a more difficult time managing their blood-sugar levels, meaning that regular periodontal care can help control diabetes.
There’s evidence that good oral health and regular professional dental checkups reduce the risk and progression of respiratory diseases, as well as evidence linking overall oral health with pneumonia risk. Like heart disease, respiratory diseases can come from a lack of oral hygiene upkeep, resulting in the build-up of dangerous bacteria. Aspiration pneumonia (inhaling bacteria that can cause a lung infection) is a risk for seniors with trouble swallowing and who need feeding assistance.
People with chronic kidney disease commonly show signs of periodontal disease or simply poor overall oral health. These dental issues may bring about infections and inflammation, which may increase the rate of health complications or even death caused by chronic kidney disease.
Tooth loss has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For example, a 2009 study shows that periodontal disease is linked to impaired delayed memory and calculation.
Infection with bacteria from periodontal disease can affect the uterus and cause low birthweight and premature contractions of the uterus. A study of periodontal disease treatment in pregnant women exposed a link between preterm birth and unsuccessful periodontal treatment. Another study indicated that there’s an association between preeclampsia (high blood pressure while pregnant) and periodontal disease.
A study has found that patients with poor oral hygiene are more likely to harbor H. pylori — which is the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers.
According to a 2016 study, periodontal disease increases the risk of cancer two-fold. Other studies show a link between oral disease and other types of cancers.
Oral Health and Your Day-to-Day Wellbeing
Beyond the severe oral and general health problems that are linked to poor oral health, poor oral health and the appearance of a person’s mouth and teeth are directly related to a lower quality of life and daily challenges.
According to a study by the ADA, of the adults in the U.S.:
- 54% ever have difficulty chewing or eating
- 41% ever avoid smiling
- 40% ever feel embarrassed
- 36% ever experience anxiety
- 26% ever reduce social participation
- 25% ever have difficulty doing usual activities
- 18% find it harder to interview for a job
What You Can Do
If you already have tooth decay and need dental work done, the cost can be daunting. However, it’s much cheaper to address oral health problems, than it is to end up with one of the serious chronic diseases mentioned above.
You can take practical steps to improve your oral hygiene and improve your health and mental wellbeing. Scheduling regular dental cleaning and taking on healthy dental care habits at home can help you reverse the cycle of poor oral health. Getting your mouth healthier will also get your body and your mind healthier.
To learn more about how to properly care for your teeth at home, check out our guide on the subject.