5 reasons oral hygiene matters more than you think
Oral hygiene is more important than you think. It's not just about keeping your teeth and gums healthy enough to keep your smile radiant, and your food properly chewed – oral hygiene has been linked to serious, life-threatening health conditions.
Even innocuous problems that may not be too troublesome on their own – such as bleeding gums – can be signs of something serious happening elsewhere in your body.
Doctors have been warning of the link between heart disease and oral hygiene for around a century. There are numerous studies showing that people with poor oral hygiene are more likely to suffer from heart disease or heart attacks.
The link may be disputed – on the grounds that none of the studies show a causal effect, only a correlation – but that doesn't mean there isn't a causal effect. Yes, perhaps the risk of heart disease is higher in people with poor oral hygiene because gum disease can also be a sign of general ill health, but why take the chance?
Equally, even if gingivitis doesn't cause heart disease, it still might be a symptom. Either way a trip to the dentist is a good idea.
The state of your mouth is linked to cancer in two ways. Firstly, there is some evidence to suggest that plaque levels are linked to cancer deaths. A 2012 study found that those with higher levels of plaque were more likely to die of cancer.
Secondly, a 2013 study found that people with swollen gums, missing teeth and other signs of poor dental health are more likely to be infected with the HPV virus, which can cause cancers of the cervix, mouth and throat.
Again, neither study established a causal relationship, but it doesn't mean there isn't one.
People with Type 2 diabetes are three times more likely to develop dental problems than people without. In particular, gum disease is especially prevalent amongst diabetes sufferers. People with diabetes are generally more susceptible to bacterial infection, and have a decreased ability to fight bacteria that invade the gums – meaning persistent dental problems may be a sign of diabetes.
Equally, there is some evidence to suggest that serious gum disease (periodontitis) may have the potential to affect blood glucose control, and therefore contribute to the progression of diabetes.
Dental infections have been linked to stroke. It's thought that dental infections may give certain bacteria access to the blood that can cause a pre-disposition to thrombosis (clotting). Chronic gum infection has also been associated with reduced blood flow to the brain.
Either is a potential route to stroke.
Research suggests periodontal disease produces an enzyme – peptidyl arginine deiminase (PAD) – that changes proteins in the body into a different protein called citrulline, which the body's immune system attacks, potentially causing chronic inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis, or people who are prone to it.
That means gum disease could tip potential arthritis into suffering from arthritis, and make existing sufferers' condition worse.
More research is needed into the link between oral hygiene and all of these conditions, but in the meantime, it's hard to think of a better argument for looking after your oral hygiene.