Pearly Whites: The Importance of Dental Care
We all know how important it is to take care of our teeth. We learn from a very young age to brush and floss, as well as visit the dentist regularly. Often when we think of dental hygiene, things like preventing cavities, tooth decay and gum disease come to mind. But have you ever considered that taking care of your teeth contributes to overall health? We know that it's important to eat right and exercise to stay healthy, but it is just as important to look after your teeth as well.
I'm not proud to admit that over the last several years I have neglected my teeth. I brushed my teeth twice a day and I would floss when I remembered, but I let many years go by without a dental check-up. The more time that went by, the harder it was to go back, not to mention the fact that I didn't have any dental coverage. That has recently changed and I once again found myself back in the dentists' chair. I was nervous as to what they would find. I knew that regular brushing could not remove the plaque that had built up over the years. I had not been flossing regularly and I had heard that pregnancy can change the enamel in your teeth leaving you susceptible to cavities. I had three kids since the last time I had seen the dentist! Lucky for me I have been blessed with good teeth and I escaped the dentists' chair with no cavities and a mouth that was so clean it felt amazing. I remember wishing that I could afford to have my teeth whitened someday, but after leaving the dentist, I'm confident that my teeth looked whiter just from a proper cleaning and the removal of plaque that had built up.
But how does poor dental hygiene affect overall health? The mouth is full of (mostly) harmless bacteria. The immune system can normally keep these bacteria under control, but poor dental care can allow levels of bacteria that lead to infections such as tooth decay and gum disease. Several conditions have been linked to oral health. Cardiovascular disease refers to heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke. Bacteria from the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to the arteries resulting in hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Plaque then forms inside arterial walls narrowing the blood vessels putting you at increase risk for heart attack or stroke. Oral bacteria can also travel to damaged areas of the heart resulting in an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis). Severe gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight. In fact, it was when I was pregnant with my first child that I became aware of the link between dental care and overall health. Oral bacteria can also cause diabetic complications. Diabetics have reduced resistance to infection, so the gums are at risk. They experience a higher incidence of gum disease, it tends to be more severe and it interferes with blood sugar levels. There are even some studies linking gum disease to respiratory infections because of the exposure to bacteria that gets inhaled into the lungs.
So how can you protect your teeth and your overall health? Be sure to brush your teeth twice a day and floss every day. Eat a well-rounded, healthy diet, replace your toothbrush every several months and most importantly visit your dentist on a regular basis to keep your dental health in check.