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Why Happy Summers Start with Healthy Mouths

When you think of staying happy and healthy over the summer holidays and beyond, one of the first things that probably springs to mind is suncream. Ensuring you protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is important to reduce the risk of developing dangerous skin cancer, as well as helping to prevent your skin from aging too quickly. It also helps avoid the discomfort of sunburn, provided you follow the guidance and don’t overexpose yourself. With all our focus on our skin during the summer months, it is easy to neglect our mouths – but did you know that good oral hygiene has huge benefits for your health?

Your mouth – a window to your health

You may not be aware of it, but your mouth provides a window into your health and can reveal a lot about your body. Good tooth care is no longer just about preventing bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease – it is also now known to reduce the risk of many serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labour. Doctors and dentists can now learn a lot about your overall state of health from a quick look at your teeth and saliva. So it pays to make sure you take as much care about what’s going on inside as you do about what’s happening on the outside.

Which diseases cause oral symptoms?

Many systemic diseases can now be recognised through signs and symptoms in your mouth. A systemic disease is a disease that affects or pertains to your entire body, not just one of its parts, such as AIDS or diabetes, for example. Because they affect different parts of the body, they have historically been very hard to diagnose early on – modern research, however, has shown that they often first become apparent as mouth lesions or other oral problems. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms – which means they can be detected and treated much more quickly and in many cases, before they become more serious.

How does saliva help doctors?

Did you know that your saliva can provide your doctor with a wealth of information? For example, cortisol levels in saliva can be used to test for stress responses in newborn children, whilst fragments of certain bone-specific proteins may be useful as indicators to help monitor bone loss in women and men prone to osteoporosis. Ongoing research has revealed that certain cancer markers are also detectable in saliva, which has huge implications for the future prevention of the disease.

In addition, routine saliva testing can be used to detect and measure a variety of other things including illegal drugs, environmental toxins, hormones and antibodies indicating hepatitis or HIV infection. The ability to detect HIV-specific antibodies has now led to the production of commercial, easy-to-use saliva test kits, a concept which may well be expanded in the future for other tests. Potentially, saliva testing could 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 – helping to reduce the discomfort associated with the existing tests.

Why is saliva so important?

You may not be aware, but saliva is also one of your body’s main defenses against disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. As well as antibodies that attack viral pathogens, such as the common cold and HIV, it contains proteins called histatins, which inhibit the growth of a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans. A HIV infection or other illness may cause this protection to be weakened, allowing candida to grow out of control. This results in a fungal infection called oral thrush.

Saliva also contains valuable enzymes that destroy bacteria in different ways, helping to fight many bacterial different diseases. It achieves this by degrading bacterial membranes, inhibiting the growth and metabolism of certain bacteria, and disrupting vital bacterial enzyme systems.

How does brushing and flossing help my health?

Brushing and flossing regularly helps to keep your teeth clean and prevent plaque from building up along your gumline. If plaque is allowed to form, it creates an environment for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and your teeth, which can lead to a common gum infection known as gingivitis. If allowed to persist without treatment, gingivitis can lead to a more serious gum infection called periodontitis. The most severe form of gum infection is called acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, also known as trench mouth.

What causes reduced immunity?

When you are healthy, bacteria from your mouth normally don’t enter your bloodstream. However, some situations can cause reduced immunity and this can increase your risk of developing illness. For example, invasive dental treatments — sometimes even just routine brushing and flossing if you have gum disease — can provide a port of entry for dangerous microbes. Medications or treatments that reduce saliva flow and antibiotics that disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth can also compromise your mouth’s normal defenses, allowing these bacteria to enter your bloodstream and leaving you more vulnerable to infection.

In a healthy immune system, the presence of oral bacteria in your bloodstream causes no problems as your immune system quickly dispenses with them to prevent infection. However, if your immune system is weakened, for example because of a disease or cancer treatment, oral bacteria in your bloodstream (bacteremia) may cause you to develop an infection in another part of your body. Infective endocarditis, in which oral bacteria enter your bloodstream and stick to the lining of diseased heart valves, is an example of this phenomenon.

If you are undergoing any kind of long term medical treatment or have been diagnosed with an illness, it is advisable to speak to your dentist for advice on the best way to look after your oral hygiene.

The dangers of plaque

Although it has been known for a long time that long-term gum infection can eventually result in the loss of your teeth, new research indicates that the consequences may not end there. It is now understood that there may be an association between oral infections — primarily gum infections — and poorly controlled diabetes, cardiovascular disease and preterm birth. Much more research is still needed, however it is believed that oral infections may actually cause a number of conditions including:

Poorly controlled diabetes. 

If you suffer from diabetes, you are already at increased risk of developing gum disease. But chronic gum disease may, in fact, make diabetes more difficult to control, as well. Infection may cause insulin resistance, which disrupts blood sugar control.

Cardiovascular disease and Strokes

Oral inflammation due to bacteria (gingivitis) may also play a role in clogged arteries and blood clots. Evidence indicates that bacteria in the mouth may cause inflammation throughout the body, including the arteries. This inflammation may serve as a base for the development of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries, which can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Some research suggests that people with gum infections are also at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The risk appears to worsen with the severity of the infection. Gum disease and tooth loss may also contribute to plaques in the carotid artery. In one study, 46 percent of participants who’d lost up to nine teeth had carotid artery plaque; among those who’d lost 10 or more teeth, 60 percent of them had such plaque.

Preterm birth

It has recently been discovered that severe gum disease may be linked to an increased risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, in fact, estimates that as many as 18 percent of preterm, low birth weight babies born in the United States each year may be attributed to oral infections. It is believed that oral bacteria release toxins, which reach the placenta through the mother’s bloodstream and interfere with the growth and development of the fetus. At the same time, the oral infection causes the mother to produce labour-triggering substances too quickly, potentially triggering premature labor and birth.

If you’d like to book an appointment now, ask for advice or enquire about becoming a member of Bridge Dental & Implant Clinic, call now on 01332 916351.


Posted by Bridge Dental and Implant Clinic on 29th August 2019, under Dental health