Dr Peter Marinovic of Whites Dental Care explains how poor oral health can affect your overall health.
Poor oral health is mostly preventable, yet it is one of the most chronic health problems in Australia. Neglecting your teeth and gums can lead to cavities and gingivitis (gum disease), but can also cause more serious health problems.
Dentists are trained to diagnose problems well before patients become aware of them. The common problems of decay and gum disease typically go unnoticed, which in time can lead to more complicated oral health and overall health issues.
Often the first sign of tooth decay is when a tooth has collapsed and broken due to the slow loss of the supporting dentine under the hard outer enamel shell of the tooth. The first sign a patient may have can often be a sudden onset of severe pain brought on by decay leading to a dental abscess in an infected root structure.
It is not only the adults that have dental problems. At least once a month, we see children below the age of 10 with five or more decayed teeth in our surgery. Permanent teeth are present in children at around the age of six. If there are an early loss of teeth, it will lead to a lifetime of orthodontic problems and complicated oral health issues as the child becomes and adult.
Besides the typical issues of decay and gum disease, dentists will routinely screen patients for other interesting problems not often immediately associated with a dental visit. This includes issues such as oral cancer, teeth grinding or even sleep apnoea.
Most of the bacteria in your mouth is harmless, but when you neglect your oral hygiene, the levels of bacteria in your mouth can increase and cause infections. This can lead to gingivitis and gum disease. You may notice your gums become inflamed and bleed easily during tooth brushing.
Ongoing and untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, where pockets develop between your gums and teeth, ultimately leading to loss of the supporting connective tissue and bone around the teeth. These pockets gradually become deeper and harmful anaerobic bacteria colonize in the pocket and multiply. The bacteria release toxins that can damage the gums and supporting bone structure, which then leads to tooth loss.
Diabetic patients need careful attention, as they are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, because diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections. Caring for your teeth and gums and managing blood glucose can help reduce your risk of dental problems. It has also been shown that vice versa, periodontal disease will lead to increased diabetic issues.
Periodontitis is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease as the periodontitis changes the hormones and cells in the bloodstream. Poor dental health also increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the blood stream, which can affect the heart valves.
Often pregnant women think they need to skip their dental appointment until after the baby arrives. Pregnancy causes a hormonal change that puts pregnant women in an increased risk for gum disease, tooth decay and a decrease in saliva production. Bacteria from periodontal disease may affect the health of the pregnant uterus leading to low birth weight and premature contraction of the uterus.
Oral health problems affect the way a person looks and sounds. A healthy mouth, which enables people to smile freely without pain or embarrassment, is crucial to their well being. Pain, infections and tooth loss cause obvious difficulties with chewing, swallowing, speaking and affect your ability to consume nutrition. This can impair general health and exacerbate existing health conditions.
Maintaining your oral health involves getting the right oral care products, as well as being mindful of your daily habits including:
- Brushing your teeth twice a day with soft bristled toothbrush (a small or medium size brush is the best)
- Using fluoridated toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water to help protect your teeth against decay
- Flossing daily. It is important as brushing. It dislodges food stuck between your teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach. If you find flossing difficult try other alternatives such as interdental brushes or a waterpik. Ask your dentist or hygienist to show you the right flossing technique.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria
- Try to minimise sugary foods and drinks, especially in between meals. Sugars allow bacteria to create acids that cause tooth decay. If you eat or drink something sugary or acidic, try to rinse your mouth with water afterwards.
- Quit smoking
- Wear a mouthguard when playing sport to protect your teeth from injuries
- If you are grinding your teeth at night you may need a custom made mouthguard called a splint to help reduce jaw pain and protect your teeth from tooth wear and fracture
- Schedule regular 6 monthly check up and cleans with your dentist and hygienist. Let your dentist know your full medical history, including any illnesses and medication you use.
- If you have risk factors that increase your chance of developing periodontitis – such as genetic predisposition, diabetes or cardiovascular disease you may need a professional cleaning more often.
The most important advice is look after your oral health and do not be complacent. There are many health issues that start with the teeth and gums then go further beyond. These need to be diagnosed in a timely manner or ideally avoided in the first instance. Following these simple steps can help you to avoid more complex and expensive treatment and help you get your mouth and body – healthy for life!
The Carousel would like to thank Dr Peter Marinovic of Whites Dental Care Neutral Bay, Sydney, for his article.