Most of us strive to live a long and happy life. Americans are living longer than ever before, with the average life expectancy in the US up to 79 years old. And for the first time in history, older adults will soon outnumber minors.
While eating a balanced diet and staying physically active are sure ways to extend your lifespan, good oral health habits also play a big role.
Not only can untreated oral and dental issues lead to tooth loss and infection, but some studies show an increased risk of death for people with poor gum and teeth health. That’s nothing to mess around with.
From heart health to diabetes and more, here’s how your oral health is connected to your overall health and longevity.
Health Conditions Linked to Oral Health
Brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time is one of the best ways to keep oral health issues away. And neglecting your oral health routine can lead to problems like tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.
But did you know that your oral health might also contribute to other diseases and conditions?
Here’s a roundup of some lesser-known diseases that can come from not taking care of your teeth:
- Endocarditis is when the inner lining of your heart becomes inflamed.
- This infection usually occurs when bacteria from other parts of your body — like your mouth — spread through your bloodstream and reach your heart.
- Cardiovascular disease (or heart disease) can happen when the bacteria from untreated gum infections travel through your bloodstream, which can cause a stroke or heart attack.
- While there is no proven direct connection, research suggests that additional factors like lack of exercise, poor access to healthcare, and smoking in addition to poor oral health can lead to more serious cardiovascular issues.
- Pneumonia is the chronic inflammation of your lungs caused by viruses, bacteria, or other harmful substances.
- Certain bacteria in your mouth can get pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
- Studies show that practicing better oral health routines — particularly for elders — can reduce the risk of pneumonia.
- Advanced gum disease can increase your risk of cancer by 24%, including lung and colorectal cancers.
- Poor oral health is also associated with a 75% increased risk of liver cancer.
Certain Conditions Might Affect Your Oral Health
While poor dental hygiene can be the culprit for other serious (and expensive) health conditions, sometimes medical issues can affect the health of your teeth and gums.
Here are a few medical problems that can increase your chances of developing (or of worsening) your oral health problems.
- Diabetes is when your body is unable to produce or respond to insulin, which can result in high blood sugar levels that can interact with the bacteria in your mouth and cause tooth decay.
- Diabetes can also cause dry mouth, which can increase cavities and bleeding gums.
- Periodontal disease is the most common dental disease affecting people with diabetes, affecting 22% of people diagnosed.
- Osteoporosis is a disease that causes low bone mass in your body.
- More than 53 million Americans have or are at high risk of developing osteoporosis, which can affect the bones in your hip, spine, and jaw.
- This bone-weakening disease is linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss, and issues with dentures and oral surgery.
Pregnancy and Birth Complications
- About 70% of women experience gum inflammation during pregnancy, called pregnancy gingivitis.
- Pregnant women who develop severe mouth infections and bleeding gums are more likely to deliver their babies prematurely if the infection is left untreated.
Your Oral Health and Your Overall Health
Protecting your teeth and gums with an effective oral health routine can protect the health of your entire body.
Here are a few steps you can add to your daily dental routine to improve your chances of keeping your teeth healthy and strong.
Chances are you’re already doing some of these things daily, but there may be a few opportunities you might’ve missed.
Invest in an Electronic Toothbrush
- Electric toothbrushes tend to cost more than regular toothbrushes but are better at removing plaque and preventing cavities.
- Studies show that electric toothbrushes reduce plaque by 21% and gingivitis by 11% more compared to regular toothbrushes.
- Electric toothbrushes do most of the work for you and are helpful for people with physical limitations and developmental disabilities.
Don’t Ditch the Toothpaste!
- Using toothpaste with fluoride can help fight cavities and strengthen your teeth.
- Fun fact: any toothpaste with an ADA Seal of Acceptance has fluoride.
- If you’re sensitive to fluoride, try a toothpaste with baking soda, green tea, menthol, or tea tree oil to help clean and protect your teeth.
Always Remember to Floss
- Flossing twice a day for two minutes each time plus brushing can reduce gum disease and plaque better than brushing alone.
- Research also shows that forgetting to floss can cause bacteria buildup in your lungs, kidneys, and brain.
Be Mindful of Your Mouthwash
- Alcohol-based mouthwash is effective at killing bacteria, but long-term use (especially combined with tobacco use) can increase your risk of throat cancer.
- Other options include natural mouthwashes like Tom’s of Maine or Hello Oral Care.
- You can also rinse with a cup of warm salt water and one-half teaspoon of salt.
Get a Professional Cleaning Once a Year
Visiting your dentist for a yearly cleaning and checkup is an important part of an effective dental routine. Brushing and flossing are good places to start but you probably don’t have the professional equipment to reach every spot in your mouth.
Taking care of your teeth and gums isn’t exactly fun, but it’s definitely worth the time and trouble to ensure the health of your whole body. Staying up to date on dental check-ups are a sure way to prolong your years through good oral health.