Your mouth is one of the worst areas of your body for harbouring bacteria. Most of these 500 or so bacteria won’t harm you if you maintain a healthy oral regime but if you don’t, all kinds of illnesses can develop, as your teeth and gums begin to break down.
The earliest signs of trouble are obvious to your dentist. They will notice cavities in the teeth and receding gums that are caused by gum disease. This is caused by a build-up of plaque – a yellowish substance that sticks to your teeth and gums and causes infection. The bacteria in plaque can attack the enamel in your teeth and create holes. If not caught in time this can lead to periodontal disease which in turn results in teeth becoming loose and dropping out, due to the underlying damage to the bones that support your teeth.
One of the main forms of gum disease is Gingivitis which results in infection and swollen gums. Generally, the gums are dark red in colour rather than a healthy pink and breath can smell bad, known as halitosis. It is caused by particles of food getting stuck between the teeth and giving off, amongst other chemicals, hydrogen sulphide. Regular flossing can help to remove these particles and should be done every day.
If you have gum disease then harmful bacteria can enter your bloodstream via your mouth and depending on your immune system, can create many medical conditions and problems, which can actually reduce your immune system’s ability to protect you from serious infections.
Here are some of the medical conditions that have proven links to bad oral hygiene and gum disease.
Heart Disease: due to narrowing of the arteries caused by a build-up of bacteria and plaque. Also, as the bacteria has a clotting agent this can cause both heart attacks and stroke.
Endocarditis: caused by bacteria getting into the inner lining of the heart and valves resulting in a serious infection of the heart.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: there is an increase in levels of inflammation and pain associated with this condition due to serious gum disease.
Lung problems: like COPD and pneumonia can be worsened as bacteria enters the lungs and causes inflammation. A study published in the Journal of Periodontology discovered there is a link between gum disease and an increased risk of pneumonia.
Erectile Dysfunction: men with serious gum disease are much more likely to suffer from this than those with good oral health. The bacteria get into the bloodstream, blocking the blood vessels that carry blood to the genitals.
Cancer: research has shown a definite link between gum disease and kidney and pancreatic cancers as well as a lower link to blood cancer.
Kidney Disease: Due to the weaker immune systems of people with gum disease there is a greater chance of blood and water infections leading to renal failure or heart disease.
If you want to give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding these serious conditions be sure to keep on top of your dental hygiene. Visit your dentist twice a year, brush your teeth and gums at least twice a day and floss regularly. Using mouthwash and chewing gum can help clean your teeth and keep bacteria and bad breath at bay.