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Why Is Dental Health Important to Overall Health?

It has never been more important for Americans to focus on their health. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that good health is not something to be taken for granted, but viruses aren’t the only risk to recognize. People also need to pay attention to changes in their overall health.

There are a wide variety of factors that influence a person’s overall health and wellness. Though most people don’t realize it, one of the most important of them is good dental health. This article will take a detailed look at the connections between dental health and overall health to help Americans understand how important it is to follow oral health and hygiene best practices.

Why Is Oral Health So Important?

There’s a reason experts recommend that all adults head in for a general dental checkup at least once a year, and it extends beyond the health of patients’ teeth and gums. Healthy People 2020 lists oral health alongside factors like healthcare access, nutrition, and cancer, HIV, and heart disease status as a leading health indicator. 

Poor dental health doesn’t just affect a patient’s ability to speak clearly, chew his or her food, and make a good impression on others with a winning smile. It also puts those patients at higher risk of developing painful, debilitating, costly, and even potentially deadly health complications. Research shows that poor oral health can contribute to many serious health problems, including:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Respiratory problems
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Alzheimer’s disease

The increased risk of developing these serious health conditions is directly linked to the abundance of bad bacteria in a patient’s mouth that cause gum disease and other oral health problems. If gum disease or infections are left untreated, these bad bacteria can escape into a patient’s bloodstream, causing chronic inflammation, weakening the immune system, and damaging seemingly unrelated parts of the body.

Though there are many different types of bacteria in the mouth, two of them are responsible for most health complications. They are:

1. Streptococcus Mutans
Streptococcus mutans is the bacteria that causes tooth decay. This harmful bacteria feeds on any sugar or starch particles in the mouth, breaking them down and creating an acidic byproduct in the process. The acid then erodes a patient’s tooth enamel, creating an entry point for additional bacteria to cause further tooth decay.

2. Porphyromonas Gingivalis
Porphyromonas gingivalis is one of the primary bacteria responsible for causing gingivitis. It attacks the gum tissues surrounding a patient’s teeth, leaving them inflamed and bloody. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress into periodontal disease, and the bacteria that cause it can spread throughout the body, damaging other organs in the process.

The Impact of Poor Dental Health on the Brain

Dental health doesn’t just affect the body. Periodontitis may also inhibit the brain’s metabolic processes. People with periodontitis may experience a decline in glucose availability, which can leave the brain unable to perform normal metabolic processes.

Some researchers believe that the bacteria responsible for causing periodontal disease and reducing glucose availability in the brain may be a contributing factor for Alzheimer’s risk. Some have already found periodontal pathogens in affected brains during post-mortem exams, and others are continuing to research the link between dental health and brain health.

Tips for Improving Dental and Overall Health

As may be clear by now, many of the problems caused by poor dental health occur as a result of harmful bacteria spreading through the bloodstream. The best way to avoid developing health conditions associated with these bad bacteria is to create an environment in the mouth that prevents them from flourishing. Follow the tips below to find out how to reduce concentrations of bad bacteria in the mouth and maintain good dental health.

Brush and Floss Daily

Brushing and flossing help to keep the populations of bacteria in the mouth in check and removes plaque buildup from the teeth. No matter what else is going on in life, it’s important to make time for two two-minute brushing sessions each day and at least one flossing session. Some dentists also recommend using mouthwash regularly.

Schedule Regular Exams and Cleanings

Aside from brushing and flossing every day, there are few things more important to maintaining good dental health than attending regular visits to the dentist. Experts recommend that all adults should get professional dental cleanings at least once every six months and full dental exams at least once a year. For those already struggling with gum disease or other serious dental issues, a three-month schedule for cleanings may be more appropriate.

Avoid Excess Sugar and Acidic Drinks

The harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease and can contribute to poor overall health thrive off of sugar, so it’s best to avoid sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and fruit juices or to consume them in moderation. It can also help to avoid acidic drinks, which can contribute to enamel breakdown.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

The path from dental health and overall health isn’t a one-way street. Maintaining a strong immune system by eating a balanced diet can have a positive impact on dental health. Aim to incorporate plenty of foods that are rich in protein and calcium, which can help to strengthen the teeth, and crunchy fruits and veggies like carrots and apples.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is essential for maintaining good overall health, and it’s just as important for patients’ dental health. Water helps to wash away bacteria-causing food and beverage residues and keep the levels of acid produced in the mouth low. The majority of everyone’s daily fluid intake should be water, not sugary soft drinks or acidic coffee, but it’s fine to consume other healthy beverages in moderation.

Get on the Path to Better Health

It’s never too late to tackle dental health problems to improve overall health and wellness. The first step anyone who has been neglecting proper dental care should take is to schedule an appointment with a dentist. However, even regular cleanings won’t replace the need for consistent at-home oral care.