Regular dental hygiene visits can do more than just keep your smile attractive, they can also tell a lot about your overall health, including whether or not you may be at risk of chronic disease. Research suggests that the health of your mouth mirrors the condition of your body as a whole; for example, when your mouth is healthy, chances are your overall health is good. On the other hand, if you have poor oral health, you may have other health problems. Research also shows that good oral health may actually prevent certain diseases from occurring.
There is a relationship between gum (periodontal) disease and health complications such as stroke or heart disease. Women with gum disease also show higher incidences of pre-term, low birth-weight babies. Other research shows that more than 90% of all systemic diseases (diseases involving many organs or the whole body) have oral manifestations, including swollen gums, mouth ulcers, dry mouth and excessive gum problems. Such diseases include, but are not limited to:
- Oral cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Since most people have regular oral examinations and dental hygiene visits, their dentist or dental hygienist may be the first health care professional to diagnose a health problem in its early stages.
If you don’t take care of your teeth and gums with regular dental hygiene visits, your poor oral hygiene can actually lead to other health problems, including:
- Oral and facial pain. This pain may be largely due to infection of the gums that support the teeth and can lead to tooth loss. Statistics indicate that Gingivitis, an early stage of gum disease, and advanced gum disease affect more than 75% of the population.
- Problems with the heart and other major organs. Mouth infections can affect major organs. For example, the heart and heart valves can become inflamed by bacterial endocarditis, a condition that affects people with heart disease or anyone with damaged heart tissue.
- Digestion problems. Digestion begins with physical and chemical processes in the mouth, and problems here can lead to intestinal failure, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders.
Seeing a dentist regularly helps to keep your mouth in top shape and allows your dentist to watch for developments that may point to other health issues. It is just as important to also regularly see a dental hygienist, as maintaining your teeth and gums is one of the best ways to ensure your long tern dental health. A dental exam can also detect poor nutrition and hygiene, growth and development problems and improper jaw alignment. At home, you can practice good oral hygiene by:
- Brush twice a day for at least two minutes, using a good quality toothpaste.
- Floss daily to remove plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach.
- Eat a healthy diet to provide the nutrients necessary (vitamins A and C, in particular) to prevent gum disease.
- Avoid cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, which are known to contribute to gum disease and oral cancer.
- Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and exams. This is one of the most effective ways to detect the early signs of gum disease.