Oral health is easily one of the more overlooked aspects in achieving good overall health. The reason behind this is that people tend to see it as a luxury rather than a necessity, and just another part of their life that does not directly or greatly affect their body. Obviously, this is wrong. While physical and mental health receives more focus, the importance of dental health is as significant as the two aforementioned.
The underlying fact still remains – good overall health is achieved only by receiving care for all the aspects.
Many still wonder what the true essence of good dental care is. As such, it is important to shed some light on the significance of having such, find the link between oral health and general health, and learn the steps one must take to achieve the best dental health possible. Here are 3 things you should know about oral health:
Oral Health Means Much More Than Healthy Teeth
Oral health touches every aspect of human life but is often taken for granted. One’s mouth is in fact a window into the health of the body. It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection. Systemic diseases, those that affect the entire body, may first become apparent because of mouth lesions or other oral problems.
A thorough oral examination can detect signs of nutritional deficiencies as well as a number of systemic diseases, including microbial infections, immune disorders, injuries, and some cancers. Indeed, the phrase the ‘mouth is a mirror’ has been used to illustrate the wealth of information that can be derived from examining oral tissues.
With regard to the broadened meaning of oral health, the definition of overall health has eventually evolved. The standard definition of health, which is “freedom from disease, defect, or pain,” defines what health is not, rather than what it is. A more positive definition, one that the World Health Organization established in 1948, states that health is a complete state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not just the absence of infirmity.
As such, it follows that oral health has created a link with one’s well-being and physiological stability. Just as people now understand that nature and nurture are inextricably linked, and mind and body are both expressions of human biology, people must now recognize that oral health and general health are inseparable.
So often, many people do ignore the signs and symptoms of oral disease and dysfunction to their own detriment. Consequently, given the definition by WHO, this entails that oral health is in fact integral to general health. One cannot be healthy when oral health is taken for granted.
This is why oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities. The former is a critical component of the latter and both must be taken into consideration in the provision and design of healthcare services and programs to every community.
The Link Between Oral Health and General Health
To better understand how the mouth can affect the body, it helps to first determine what can possibly go wrong when oral health is disregarded in the first place.
Bacteria that build up on the teeth make gums prone to infection. The immune system then moves in to attack the infection and the gums become inflamed. Later on, the inflammation continues unless the infection is brought under control.
Over time, inflammation and the chemicals it releases eat away at the gums and bone structure that hold teeth in place. The result is severe gum disease, known as periodontitis . Inflammation can also cause more serious problems to the rest of the body.
The working relationship between diabetes and periodontitis may be the strongest of all the connections between the mouth and body. People with diabetes have trouble processing sugar because of a lack of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into energy. In this case, an inflammation in the mouth may serve as a sign that the body is beginning to lose the ability to control blood sugar.
Also, according to the Academy of General Dentistry people with chronic gum disease have a higher risk of having a heart attack. Researchers have learned that gum disease may contribute to heart disease because bacteria from infected gums can dislodge, enter the bloodstream, and attach to blood vessels and increase clot formation.
It has also been suggested that inflammation caused by gum disease may also trigger clot formation. Clots decrease blood flow to the heart, thereby causing an elevation in blood pressure and increasing the risk of a heart attack.
In line with symptoms evident in the mouth, doctors can actually collect and test saliva to detect other ailments based on a variety of substances that can be detected in the specimen. For example, cortisol levels in saliva are used to test for stress responses in newborn children. Fragments of certain bone-specific proteins may be checked, providing useful information in monitoring bone density in men and women who are prone to osteoporosis. Certain cancer markers and hormone levels are also detectable in saliva.
Routine saliva testing can also reveal the presence of illegal drugs, environmental toxins, hormones and antibodies indicating hepatitis or HIV infection, among other things. In fact, the ability to detect HIV-specific antibodies has led to the production of commercial, easy-to-use saliva test kits. In the future, saliva testing may replace blood testing as a means of diagnosing and monitoring diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver and many infectious diseases.
Steps to Take to be Orally Healthy
Taking good care of a person’s mouth, teeth and gums is already a healthy measure in itself. Good oral and dental hygiene can help prevent bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease—and can help one keep his or her teeth as they get older.
It is important to always look for dental health professionals who are able to help you in deciding how to address any related health problems. Health Canada, a leading health authority in Canada, states that oral health is important at all stages of life. Seeking help from a Calgary pediatric dentist, or any other professional dental health practitioner, can mean the difference between a comfortable life and a sluggish day full of mouth related pains and aches.
Good dental health is a combination of proper daily maintenance (brushing and flossing) along with regular visits to dental care professional. People with crooked teeth, misaligned jaws and other problems with their mouth can often benefit from orthodontic procedures, such as braces or other techniques to correct the problems.
Braces – once for adolescents only – can now help people of all ages correct problems with their teeth and jaws. Not only do orthodontic procedures aid in improving the appearance, but it can also improve proper digestion (i.e. chewing of food) and even enhance speech problems, in some cases.
Researchers are also discovering more reasons to brush and floss. As stated, a healthy mouth may help ward off medical disorders. Consequently, an unhealthy mouth, especially if the person is inflicted with gum disease, may increase his or her risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labor.
Many dentists also suggest eating a healthy diet and limiting between-meal snacks. Various related studies show that, as a rule of thumb, one should: replace toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed, avoid tobacco use, and lastly, visit the dentist regularly.