Many people think that your oral health is separate from your overall health. After all, you visit a separate doctor for it, and the doctors rarely talk about the same things.
But it’s one of the benefits of working with a holistic dentist that your dentist is actually concerned about your overall health and strives to ensure that dental care supports wellbeing. And it’s important to remember that oral health problems can have life-threatening consequences.
Gum Disease and Heart Risks
Your oral health can dramatically impact the health of your heart. It’s important to remember that gum disease is a chronic infection. If you had a bleeding sore on your hand that didn’t heal for months, you would certainly be worried, but many people are unconcerned that their gums bleed after brushing every night. You should be, though, because that’s a sign that you’re in real trouble.
Bacteria from your gums can enter your blood, and when it does it travels to your heart. The bacteria can infect your heart and may cause congestive heart failure. Even if you heart resists infection, the muscles of the heart are damaged by the chronic state of inflammation that your body is in when you have gum disease. And gum disease bacteria can collect in your arteries, contributing to the clogs that can become dislodged, causing a heart attack or a stroke.
The magnitude of these risks are shown by two recent studies on more than 15,000 individuals with heart disease and stratified their risk levels by tooth loss, which is most often caused by gum disease.
Researchers showed in the first study that people who had lost more teeth had a higher diabetes risk, worse bad cholesterol levels, higher blood pressure, and larger waist circumference.
And the consequences of this became clear in the second study, which showed that people who had lost all their teeth had an 81% higher increase in their risk of all-cause death, an 85% higher risk of cardiovascular death, and a 67% higher stroke risk. This wasn’t just for people who lost all their teeth. Researchers had divided their subjects into five categories, and they found that for each category of increased tooth loss, a person experienced a 16% higher risk of all-cause death, and a 17% increased risk of cardiovascular death.
Gum Disease and Cancer
But it isn’t just heart disease that can be traced back to gum disease. Gum disease may also increase your risk of cancer. In particular, gum disease has been linked with elevated risk of oral cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and breast cancer.
Part of the reason for this increased risk is the chronic systemic inflammation, which can encourage the growth of tumors, but it may also be influenced by the ability of gum disease bacteria to hide cancer from our immune system, allowing tumors to grow.
Your Dental Visits Make a Difference
What’s most important to take away from these risks is that you have to maintain your oral health if you want to live. And studies show that good oral hygiene, along with making your regular dental visits, can, literally, save your life. A 2011 study considered the impact oral hygiene had on the mortality of 5600 seniors.
The study found that seniors who never brushed at all were 20-35% more likely to die over the study period (1992 to 2009), compared to those who brushed every night.
Flossing mattered, too. If you never flossed, your risk of dying was about 30% higher than people who flossed every night.
And not seeing a dentist made the biggest difference of all. Not seeing a dentist in the last 12 months was associated with a 30-50% higher risk of death than making your twice annual checkup and hygiene visits.
In other words, neglecting your oral health could be deadly.