Like many areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defences and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
The bacteria in your mouth can spread throughout the rest of your body, says Beverly Hills periodontist Sanda Moldovan, D.D.S. This can lead to a whole lot of health issues. Here’s a look at how your poor oral health can affect nearly every part of your body.
Poor oral health raises your risk of heart disease and stroke
Several studies have shown a link between gum disease which is known as periodontitis and heart disease, as well as increased risk for stroke. That’s because the same bacteria causing periodontitis symptoms like inflammation, bleeding, and bone loss around teeth can travel through the bloodstream to the arteries.
“Bacteria can latch onto the walls of the arteries that are feeding the heart, and cause small blood clots,” he says. “By doing so, the risk increases of restricted blood flow to the heart.” This could cause a clot blocking blood. Flow to the heart can mean a heart attack. It’s also possible that clots there can mess with blood flow to the brain, potentially leading to stroke, too.
Poor oral health raises your risk of cancer
Just as the bacteria in your mouth can make your gums puffy, it can cause similar reactions to other tissues in your body. The National Institute of Health (USA) notes that inflammation has long been associated with the development of cancer, and as tumours grow, more tissues get damaged and inflamed.
The inflammation may be what’s responsible to the link between periodontal disease and certain cancers, too, says Dr. Moldovan. In fact, a new study published in Cancer Research found that some of the same types of bacteria that trigger periodontal disease may also be linked to a higher risk of oesophageal cancer.
A 2016 study in the Annals of Oncology found that men with periodontitis were 13% more likely to develop cancer overall, and those with advanced form of the gum disease were 45% more likely to get diagnosed.
Poor oral health raises your risk of prostate problems
The American Academy of Periodontology notes that men with indicators of periodontal disease tend to have higher levels of Prostate-specific antigen (PSA). This is an enzyme created in the prostate that is normally secreted in small amounts and more inflammation of the prostate. When the prostate becomes inflamed or infected; PSA levels increase. This becomes a problem as it can lead to a condition known as prostatitis, which affects men of all ages, according to Harvard Medical School. The issue can lead to painful irritation, difficult ejaculation, pain in the perineum, and urination urgency.
Poor oral health increases the risk for preterm birth
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that as many as 18% of preterm and low birth weight babies born in the USA each year may be attributed to oral infections. The theory behind this is the fact that oral bacteria release toxins that reach the placenta through mother’s bloodstream and interferes with the growth and development of the foetus. The oral infection also causes the mother to produce labour-triggering substances too quickly; this potentially triggers premature labour and birth.
Poor oral health can lead to poorly controlled diabetes
People with diabetes already have an increased risk of developing gum disease. But chronic gum disease may make diabetes more difficult to control too. Infections may cause insulin resistance, which disrupts blood sugar control.
Dr. Mazen Natour, a prosthodontist advises that with good oral health, your risk of these bacteria-driven issues is much lower. If you don’t have any gum disease or dental problems, you should see your dentist for cleanings and check-ups every six months, he suggests.
If you are already showing some symptoms of periodontitis like you spit blood when you brush or floss, or your gums feel inflamed or you’re more prone to cavities, you’re likely to need a dental visit about every four months.
Even though you’ve heard this one before, it’s still worth repeating. You should floss daily. You may not like it but it makes a huge difference, says Dr. Moldovan
Other handy strategies include reducing sugar consumption. Dr. Moldovan says that sugar can stick on teeth and become a perfect harbour for bacteria, which can contribute to plaque. You should also make swishing your mouth with water after meals and snacks a part of your daily habit.