TIMBERCREST DENTAL CENTER
Health Risks of Poor Oral Hygiene
Dr. John Luther, D.D.S. & Founder
January 30, 2015
Importance of Oral Hygiene
Timbercrest Dental Center
Question? What is one of our favorite things to write about on this blog?
If you answered oral hygiene, then you’re right! Other acceptable answers include general dentistry, animals, and Broadway musicals (though I’ve a sneaking suspicion the latter are being snuffed out by our editing team).
Usually when we discuss oral hygiene it’s within the context of dental health, but we’re going to zoom out a bit today and talk about the big picture. The truth is that your oral hygiene has many health implications that go beyond just your mouth.
Some people think about the mouth like the tool shed out back – an important structure to keep clean and healthy, but if things get in they’re pretty much stuck there. In reality it’s more like your front door, if it’s damaged or missing it can corrupt anything entering the house.
When your mouth is suffering the consequences of poor oral hygiene, it can make things complicated for other physiological systems. They can even be life-threatening. We’ll start at the top…of the body that is, with some of the health risks of poor oral hygiene:
Dementia – Although a causation has yet to be proven, a correlation between poor oral hygiene and Alzheimer’s disease was shown by the Central Lancashire School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2013. The study found an oral bacteria present in the brains of four of the ten dementia patients tested.
It is hypothesized and being further tested that when the brain is exposed to this bacteria (porphyromonas gingivalis), it can damage or destroy nerve cells in the brain contributing to memory loss and dementia. While it may not be the cause of this disorder in those affected, it is also theorized that it at least has the potential to exacerbate existing proclivities toward the neurodegenerative disease.
Oral Cancer – This one seems like it may be somewhat obvious, but a lack of proper oral hygiene can actually lead to oral cancer. Untreated bacteria of the mouth creates an environment that can quickly become just what cancer is looking for to grow.
Additionally, a 2013 study by Cancer Prevention Research, found that people who rated their oral hygiene as poor or fair were significantly more likely to have an oral infection from the carcinogenic human papillomavirus (HPV). Poor oral hygiene was actually linked to a 56% rise in the chance of acquiring HPV, which can lead to oral cancer.
Heart Disease – Up until recently, there has been a lot of debate over the correlation between gum disease and heart disease. A recent joint report, however by periodontists and cardiologists in both the Journal of Periodontology and the American Journal of Cardiology (respectively) shows gum disease to be a risk factor in coronary heart disease.
This research also showed that blocked arteries in the legs were directly linked to gum disease as well, due to poor oral hygiene. While, definitively, saying that one leads to the other would be flying in the face of a progressing medical debate, it’s becoming more and more obvious every day that good oral hygiene will work to stave off some of the threats of heart disease.
Respiratory Infection – Because the mouth is the entrance for aspiration (breathing) to the lungs, the presence of oral pathogens or even the excess of oral biotics can lead to a heightened risk for respiratory infection. Essentially by not taking care of your mouth properly, it’s just a waiting game for that piece of bacteria you could have brushed off to be inhaled into your lungs.
Respiratory infections can be nasty. Brush up.
Other cancers – A study performed by Brown University shows that men with gum disease were 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer than men with good gum conditions. It gets worse. That same group of men with gum disease was always 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancer.
This is where good oral hygiene goes from being just a mouth thing to a thing that could be life-threatening. Take it seriously. We don’t bug you about brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing at least once a day and visiting us twice a year because we’re tyrants (most of us, at least). This is important.
Sexual and Fertility Problems – In men, the presence of periodontal bacteria can lead to erectile disfunction. So much so that men with poor oral hygiene are seven times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than men who take care of their mouths. What happens is the bacteria that enters through your mouth can travel into your bloodstream and enflame the vessels. This limits the amount of blood that can travel southward.
For pregnant women, poor oral hygiene can actually mean a premature birth. Infections beginning in the mouth can cause preterm birth. Often, fertility specialists and obstetricians will recommend using a strong mouthwash during pregnancy to kill the kinds of pathogens that can lead to infection.
In a similar vein, a study conducted on women attempting to get pregnant found that the time it takes to get pregnant is two months longer (7 months on average vs 5 months on average) for women with gum disease, than women who did not have gum disease.