Our smile is one of the first things people notice about us. While nothing is more welcoming than a wide, happy smile, the importance of a healthy smile goes far beyond how approachable we are to strangers.
Our oral health is closely tied to our overall health. Your mouth teams with different strains of bacteria (up to 700 strains, in fact!). While most are harmless, your mouth is still the entry point to your respiratory system and digestive tract.
With proper hygiene, most of these threats are neutralized by keeping bacteria under control. However, if your oral hygiene is lacking, then bacteria levels can start to rise and lead to infections of the teeth and gums that can cause issues in other parts of the body.
There are also certain medications that can cause secondary side effects like dry mouth that can also exacerbate oral health issues.
Studies have shown that that advanced gum disease or tooth decay can play a role in diseases:
Endocarditis is an infection of the inner linings of the chambers of valves in your heart. It typically happens when bacteria or germs spread from another part of your body into the endocardium (like from your mouth). The germs or bacteria can spread through blood and end up in certain areas of your heart.
While the connection is not entirely understood, there is evidence that suggests that heart disease, stroke, and clogged arteries may be linked to exposure to oral bacteria.
When you’re pregnant, your body is more vulnerable to illness or other issues that could affect your pregnancy. Periodontitis, or gum disease, has been linked to lower birth weights and premature births.
If you have infections, inflammations, or open abscesses in your mouth, the bacteria can get pulled into your lungs and cause pneumonia and other respiratory issues or diseases.
There are also conditions that can cause dental issues:
Those living with HIV/AIDS have a suppressed immune system, which makes them more vulnerable to infection. Also, one of the side effects of HIV/AIDS are painful mucosal lesions in the mouth that can easily become infected.
Diabetes is another condition that lowers your body’s immune response and resistance to infection, which puts your gums at risk for infection. Evidence shows that periodontitis is more common and more severe among people who have diabetes and that those who have gum disease and diabetes have a harder time controlling their blood sugar.
Osteoporosis weakens your bones and is connected to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. There are also certain drugs used to treat this condition that can run the risk of damaging the bones of the jaw.
While Alzheimer’s Disease itself does not affect the health of your mouth, many people living with the disease begin to forget to regular floss and brush, which worsens dental and gum issues.
Keeping your oral health in check
As you’ve probably deduced by now, making sure that your teeth, gums, and other oral structures are healthy goes much further than having a good smile. Your oral health may be the key to keeping your overall health too.
To make sure your teeth and gums stay healthy, here are seven key things you should do:
- Stay hydrated
Our bodies are 60% water and need water to function. One of the things drinking at least 8 oz. of water a day will do for you is help prevent dry mouth. Not only does dry mouth give you halitosis, it will help you produce saliva at an optimal rate. Saliva helps wash away bacteria, protect your teeth’s enamel, and remove food morsels that can lodge between the teeth and rot.
- Floss right
Everyone knows that flossing is an important part of oral care, but most people still don’t do it correctly (or often enough). To adequately remove the germs between your teeth, you should use a piece of floss about 18-20 inches long. This allows you to use a fresh section of floss every few teeth, so you’re not reinserting bacteria.
- Use the right products
Using the right dental care products for your teeth is important and will make your oral care regimen easier to follow. Use a soft brush so you don’t irritate your gums and you can use non-alcohol mouthwash if you’re sensitive to that. There are also a variety of toothpastes out there, including those that treat dental sensitivity. Don’t ever feel like your brush gets your tongue clean? Invest in a tongue scraper! The options are endless for finding the perfect dental care products that are right for you.
- Change your brush
Brush bristles deteriorate with time and use, which is why you should replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months. Keeping a toothbrush longer may mean you’re not getting the best cleaning you could be.
Notice your toothbrush splaying out? That means you’re brushing too hard. Invest in a softer brush and be gentler.
- Use a mouthwash
After brushing and flossing, you will still have bacteria, germs, and food particles loose in your mouth. Mouthwash helps flush away any remaining bacteria or germs your toothbrush and floss has stirred up, giving you a 100% clean mouth.
- Use a tongue scraper
Did you know that most cases of bad breath actually result from bacteria and germs clinging to the tongue? Like mouthwash, a tongue scraper can help remove bacteria and debris your toothbrush missed and give you fresher breath.
Don’t like the idea of adding to your plastic footprint? Stainless steel tongue scrapers are readily available now and last for years—and can go in the dishwasher!
- No snacking
If you have a midnight snack after brushing your teeth, you’ll have undone all your good work! If you eat after your teeth cleaning routine is done, you can’t just rinse away the particles with water. Brush, floss, and rinse your mouth again to make sure you don’t have any food bits left stuck in your teeth that can start to cause decay.