Your oral health is more important than you might think. It's not just about having a nice smile and avoiding cavities. Good oral health is also essential for your overall health and well-being.
In this article, we will explore the surprising connections between dental health and overall health, and discuss simple lifestyle changes and preventative measures that can contribute to a healthier mouth and body, including two surprising preventative measures at the end of the article. So keep reading to learn more.
Surprising Connections: How Dental Health Affects Overall Health
Good oral health is essential not only for a beautiful smile but also for overall health and well-being. While most of us are aware of the importance of brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups, the connection between dental health and our body's overall health may come as a surprise.
Recent research has uncovered intriguing links between oral health and various chronic diseases, highlighting the need to prioritise oral hygiene as an integral part of our overall health regimen.
There is a growing body of research that shows a link between oral health and a variety of chronic diseases, including:
Heart disease: People with gum disease are more likely to develop heart disease. This is because the bacteria that cause gum disease can enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is a significant risk factor for heart disease.
Stroke: People with gum disease are also more likely to have a stroke as the inflammation caused by gum disease can damage the blood vessels in the brain.
Type 2 diabetes: Surprisingly, people with gum disease are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This is because the inflammation caused by gum disease can make it harder for the body to use insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Rheumatoid arthritis: People with gum disease are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints.
Preterm birth: Women with gum disease are more likely to have preterm babies. The inflammation caused by gum disease can affect the placenta, the organ that connects the mother to the baby.
The Link Between Oral Health and Chronic Diseases
A study conducted at the University of Birmingham in 2021 revealed that patients with periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, are at an increased risk of developing various illnesses, including depression and anxiety, autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
The study found that individuals with periodontitis, when compared to those without gum disease, have an increased risk of:
depression and anxiety by 37%
autoimmune diseases by 33%
Type 2 diabetes by 26%
cardiovascular disease by 18%
In addition to chronic diseases, poor oral health can also lead to:
Bad breath: This is a common symptom of gum disease.
Loose teeth: Gum disease can cause the gums to recede, leading to loose teeth.
Dental infections: If left untreated, gum disease can lead to serious dental infections.
So what can we do to prevent gum disease and protect our overall health and well-being?
Healthy Lifestyle Habits for Good Oral Health
If you want to improve your overall health, it's important to take care of your oral health. Here are some of the best dental hygiene tips for good oral health:
Brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time.
Floss your teeth once a day and/or use interdental brushes.
See your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings.
You can also improve your oral health by making other lifestyle changes, such as:
Eating a healthy diet: Limit sugary and acidic foods and beverages, as they can contribute to tooth decay. Instead, opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, plant proteins, and whole grains.
Drinking plenty of water.
Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol intake can significantly impact oral health and increase the risk of oral cancer.
Following these tips can improve your oral health and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
Two surprising lifestyle habits that can improve oral health
But what else can you do? Did you know there are some surprising, but simple lifestyle habits that can help to protect your oral health and therefore help improve your overall health and well-being?
These include reducing stress and also chewing sugar-free gum.
Let’s explore how these are both connected to better oral health and improved overall well-being.
Sugar-free gum as a preventative measure
In addition to brushing and flossing, sugar-free gum can be a helpful way to maintain good oral health. Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after meals can help to remove food particles and bacteria from the teeth. It can also increase saliva production, which helps to wash away food particles and bacteria and keep the mouth healthy.
If you want to boost your health further, then chew gum while walking. A study published in the Japanese Journal of Physical Therapy Science in 2017 found that gum chewing while walking can increase physical and physiological functions. The study, which involved 46 participants, found that those who chewed gum while walking walked for a longer distance, at a faster speed, and with a higher heart rate than those who did not chew gum. The study also found that gum chewing increased fat oxidation and energy expenditure.
The study's findings suggest that gum chewing can be a helpful way to improve physical activity and fitness. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings and to determine the optimal amount of gum chewing and the type of gum that is most effective.
If you are looking for a way to improve your oral health and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases, then the research looks promising. Chewing sugar-free gum can be a helpful addition to your oral hygiene routine.
While such preventative methods are useful and should not be overlooked, chewing gum should be used in addition to other healthy lifestyle habits for improved oral health and not instead of. As Dr Maria Papavergos confirms “Whilst tools like sugar-free gum may offer patients a hand in nurturing their oral microbiome, it should not be seen as a substitute for other positive lifestyle practices, such as eating a nutritious diet, limiting alcohol and sugar consumption, and exercising regularly.”
Managing stress as a preventative measure
High levels of stress can affect oral health. Practice stress management techniques like exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies to promote overall well-being.
Managing stress is an essential preventative measure for maintaining optimal oral health. The connection between stress and oral health is often overlooked, but it plays a significant role in the overall well-being of our mouths. When stress levels are high, they can manifest in various ways within our oral cavity, leading to detrimental effects. Here's how stress impacts oral health and why stress management techniques are crucial for maintaining a healthy mouth.
Bruxism (Teeth Grinding): High levels of stress can contribute to teeth grinding, also known as bruxism. People often grind or clench their teeth unconsciously, especially during sleep or times of intense stress. This habit places excessive pressure on the teeth, jaw, and surrounding muscles. Over time, bruxism can lead to tooth wear, jaw pain, headaches, and even temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. By managing stress levels, individuals can reduce the likelihood of teeth grinding and its detrimental effects on oral health.
Gum Disease: Stress weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections, including gum disease. Chronic stress can impair the body's ability to fight off harmful bacteria, increasing the risk of gum infections and inflammation. Moreover, stress can contribute to poor oral hygiene habits, such as neglecting regular brushing and flossing, which further exacerbates the risk of gum disease. By implementing stress management techniques, individuals can bolster their immune system, reducing the likelihood of gum disease and promoting healthier gums.
Dry Mouth: Stress and anxiety can lead to dry mouth, a condition where the mouth doesn't produce enough saliva to keep it adequately moisturized. Saliva is crucial for maintaining oral health as it helps wash away food particles, neutralize acids, and fight against harmful bacteria. When the mouth lacks sufficient saliva, it becomes more susceptible to tooth decay, bad breath, and oral infections. Engaging in stress reduction activities, such as meditation or exercise, can help regulate saliva flow and alleviate dry mouth symptoms.
Poor Oral Hygiene: During times of stress, individuals may find it challenging to prioritise their oral hygiene routine. Stress can affect motivation, energy levels, and focus, leading to neglect of brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups. As a result, plaque and bacteria accumulate, increasing the risk of cavities, gum disease, and other oral health problems. By managing stress levels and incorporating stress-relief activities into daily routines, individuals can maintain consistency in their oral hygiene practices, ensuring the health of their teeth and gums.
By practising stress management techniques, such as exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies, individuals can reduce the negative impact of stress on their oral health. These activities promote overall well-being and help alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress. Additionally, seeking support from healthcare professionals or participating in stress management programs can provide valuable tools and strategies to effectively manage stress.
Your oral health is important for your overall health and well-being. By recognising the surprising connections between dental health and chronic diseases, we can take proactive steps towards achieving optimal oral and overall health. Following the tips in this article can improve your oral health and reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases.
Before you go…
Oral health and it’s links to the rest of the body is fascinating. Before you go, check out our article on the links between dental health and hormones.