Many people are concerned about their health and wellness, but it’s astonishing how many people don’t think about oral health as being a part of overall health.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 4 Americans between the ages of 20-44 suffers from untreated dental decay. And nearly 1 in 5 children have untreated cavities. Why so many? We all know that we’re supposed to brush twice a day and floss regularly. We all know that sugary foods and beverages can cause tooth decay. So what’s the issue?
Really, it probably just comes down to discipline and attention to detail.
Many of us do brush daily. But not all of us do a good job of it. Cavity-causing bacteria hide in the spaces between teeth and gums. They hang out on our tongues, on the insides of our cheeks, on the gum surfaces and in the back of the throat. And, because the mouth, nasal cavities, sinuses and ear canals make up a cohesive, cavern-like system, the same germs that cause problems in our mouths are always hanging around in our nasopharynxes, ready to re-colonize our mouths.
That’s not a problem — it’s a natural colonization process. And up in the nasal passages, those pathogens rarely cause problems. Even in the mouth, if the bacterial population is well-controlled by proper brushing, rinsing, flossing, mouthwash use and a low-sugar diet, they don’t cause many problems.
But if they’re allowed to reproduce unchecked and undisturbed, with ready access to the sugary foods they thrive on, those germs are a problem.
Poor oral hygiene has serious implications for our overall wellness.
If you brush irregularly, or incompletely, you leave germs behind. Then the acid wastes they produce attack your teeth and gums.
They cause teeth to painfully break. They cause teeth to discolor and rot. They cause dangerous abscesses to form in the gums, in the soft interior of the cheeks, in the soft palate and tonsils, or even in the salivary or parotid glands.
Just like your skin, the interior surfaces of your mouth — the epithelial surfaces like cheeks, gums and soft palate — and the bony teeth themselves, are part of your defense against infection. The cells of these surfaces are packed tightly together, creating nearly gapless walls that germs find it hard to penetrate.
But the acids left behind by bacteria erode these defensive walls. They open up breaches in your body’s fortress, and germs can begin to flood in.
In extreme cases, unchecked bacteria-produced toxins can migrate into and travel through the bloodstream, causing septicemia — also known as “blood poisoning.” At the very least, a person who develops this condition will garner an expensive ICU stay. But it can also be deadly.
Some studies have even suggested that unchecked poor oral hygiene could contribute to heart disease. Although there is no definitive link as yet between the two, it has been hypothesized that bacterial toxins from the mouth — or the bacteria themselves — can travel through the bloodstream and lodge, group together and cause damaging inflammation in vital organs like the heart.
Although people with poor oral hygiene often exhibit other factors related to heart disease — smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet choices and what-not — there’s enough concern that you should be paying attention.
Last but not least, oral bacteria also produce sulfur-containing waste products. Sulphur salts tend to smell like rotten eggs — their presence on teeth, gums and tongue causes you to have truly horrible breath. No one wants to be around that. Chronic bad breath can adversely affect your relationships, your career, and even your interactions with strangers you meet in public. It’s embarrassing, but unnecessarily so in that it’s preventable.
Make oral hygiene a priority.
It’s not enough to give your daily toothbrushing a lick-and-a-promise effort. It’s not enough to brush once in the morning — or once every other morning. And it’s not enough to floss every once in a while. You have to develop a routine.
Brush and floss after breakfast. Brush and floss, rinse with an antimicrobial mouthwash and/or chew sugarless gum in between meals. Brush and rinse with mouthwash again right before bed — bacteria reproduce and grow in your mouth even as you sleep, and knocking them down a few pegs before you turn in for the evening can help to keep them under better control.
Lastly, make sure that you schedule and attend regular, twice-yearly dentist visits. Find a dentist who accepts your insurance, or who will work with you on an affordable self-pay basis, and start taking better care of your mouth.
Maintaining good oral health is a fight — one that never ends. The bacteria will always be there. It’s up to you to brush, floss, go for regular cleanings and check-ups and be vigilant in maintaining your body’s defenses.