In China, they celebrate “Love Your Teeth Day!” In Canada, we have an entire month (April) to celebrate our pearly whites. Find out some of the surprising ways our oral health can affect our overall health.
Do you brush your teeth regularly? Floss every day? Or do you often shrug off these daily rituals because life’s just too busy? If your hygienist routinely scolds you while she scrapes the buildup away, think about this: it’s not just your smile you’re compromising. Your oral health is connected to your overall health in many important ways.
The doorway to our health
Though our eyes may be the window to our soul, our mouth can be the doorway to health issues. Gums are prone to infection if bacteria are allowed to build up on our teeth. This, in turn, can lead to inflammation as our body’s immune system moves in to fight the infection.
This inflammation can cause damage to our gums and bone structure, leading to periodontitis. Inflammation can also cause problems in the rest of our body.
There is a definite connection between gum disease and heart disease. Up to 91 percent of people with heart disease also have periodontitis. And the risk factors for both are similar: smoking, unhealthy diet, and excess weight. Scientists believe the inflammation that causes periodontitis can also lead to inflammation in the blood vessels.
This is an infection of the inner lining of the heart, called the endocardium. It generally occurs when bacteria from another part of the body—in this case the mouth—spread through the bloodstream to damaged areas of the heart.
Pregnancy and birth
Scientists have suggested a link between periodontitis—a disease of the gums—and premature babies and underweight babies. The theory is that inflammation and infection in general can interfere with fetal development.
Researchers know that having diabetes increases the risk of periodontal diseases. But they’re still investigating whether the reverse is possible— can having periodontal disease increase one’s chance of developing diabetes. The speculation is that periodontal diseases may initiate insulin resistance.
A link has been made between periodontal disease and HIV/AIDS. Researchers encourage ongoing dental care as an important part of comprehensive care for those with HIV/AIDS.
Bone loss is at the heart of both periodontitis and osteoporosis. Whether one causes the other is still to be determined. Some studies have found women with osteoporosis also have gum disease more often than women who don’t have osteoporosis.
Researchers describe inflammation as the “connecting link” between periodontitis and Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists continue to investigate the multiple pathways of inflammation for both diseases.
Happy teeth, healthy gums
It isn’t really a secret. There are some simple ways to make sure we keep our teeth happy and our gums healthy.
- 3 times a day (not more)
- with a soft-bristled toothbrush
- for at least two minutes
- be gentle
- once a day
- before bed
- both sides of every tooth
- limit sugar in food and beverages
- snack on cheese, nuts, and vegetables
Good food for happy teeth
Foods high in calcium are important for tooth health as are protein-rich foods that are also rich in phosphorus. Both protein and phosphorus are key to protecting and rebuilding tooth enamel.
- plain yogurt
- nuts, seeds
Protein and Phosphorus
- meat, poultry
- nuts, seeds
Eating foods with fibre and water—think fruit and vegetables—helps stimulate saliva production. This is important for neutralizing or washing acids and food particles away that would otherwise cause teeth to decay.
The vitamin C in fruit and vegetables is also important for gum health and for healing wounds, while vitamin A has a role in building tooth enamel.
Fibre and Vitamins A & C
- fruit (apples, pineapple, strawberries, etc.)
- vegetables (leafy greens, carrots, bell pepper, etc.)