You might expect that your teeth and gums will respond positively to brushing, flossing and regular checkups, but did you know that your oral hygiene habits could affect parts of your body far from your mouth? Several different body systems will react to how well – or how poorly – you care for your teeth.
Your mouth is a portal to the inside of your body, allowing direct access to both your digestive tract and to your lungs. Your digestive tract is one long uninterrupted tube that starts with your mouth. Delicate tissue and tiny blood vessels lining your digestive tract absorb nutrients and other substances, including bacteria from your mouth. Similarly, tiny blood vessels absorb oxygen from your lungs but they can also take in bacteria from your mouth.
Bacteria can cause infections in your mouth and in other areas of your body. In fact, gum disease is a type of bacterial infection. In addition to infection, bacteria can also cause inflammation, which is associated with several serious health problems.
The Effects of Poor Oral Hygiene on Your Body
Poor oral hygiene can affect your body in several ways to cause poor health or to worsen existing health conditions. Certain health conditions can also cause gum disease; if you have one of these diseases, you will need to pay close attention to oral hygiene to avoid gum inflammation and gum infections that can lead to tooth loss.
Gum disease can be a complication of diabetes, for example. The high blood sugar levels that characterize diabetes can affect blood vessels in ways that impairs the flow of blood within them. Poor blood flow can weaken your gums and make them more vulnerable to infection. The high blood sugar levels of diabetes can also encourage the growth of bacteria, particularly in your mouth. Severe gum disease brought about by chronic poor oral hygiene can even increase blood sugar levels to cause other diabetes-related problems within your body.
The American Academy of Periodontology notes a link between chronic bacterial infection of the gums, known as periodontal disease, with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Inflammation associated with gum disease can increase the risk of clogged arteries associated with heart disease. Gum disease can also worsen existing heart disease.
Researchers have different theories to this association. Some say that gum disease increases inflammation that is a known risk for heart disease; others think bacteria from your mouth enter your bloodstream, where they contribute to the buildup of plaque inside your arteries. A 2005 study by researchers at the University of Florida found oral bacteria inside artery plaque. Researchers concluded their press release for the study by saying people at high risk of heart disease should practice good oral hygiene.
One study suggests your risk of stroke rises with the severity of your gum disease. Researchers compared the gum disease of 303 people who had suffered a stroke within the previous week to 168 patients hospitalized for other things and 300 healthy people. The scientists found that those with severe gum disease were four times more likely to have a stroke than those with no gum disease or only moderate gum disease.
It is important for expectant mothers to practice good oral hygiene, as they are brushing and flossing for two. Research shows that gum disease may lead to premature births and babies with low birth weights, which can have a significantly detrimental effect on the baby’s health and development. Bacteria that cause gum disease can cross into the bloodstream and target an unborn baby.
Your lungs might react to poor oral hygiene too. Doing a poor job of brushing and flossing may lead to gum disease that causes lung infections or makes them worse. Bacteria may travel from your mouth to your lungs to cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and severe pneumonia. If you are in a nursing home and other extended care facilities, you need to pay particular attention to oral hygiene, as respiratory infections spread quickly in closed environments.
Improving your oral hygiene by regular brushing, flossing and trips to your dentist can have a positive effect on the health of your teeth and gums, as well as on the rest of your body.
So how will your body react to better oral hygiene? It will love you!