We all know the importance of brushing and flossing to ensure our teeth and gums are healthy, and to keep plaque, cavities, gingivitis and dental decay at bay. But oral health can also have far reaching health implications, well beyond your pearly whites. There is increasing evidence that there is a link between your oral health and your general health via gum disease.
The World Health Organisation’s, ‘The World Oral Health Report 2003’ states that oral health and general health are related. Since the publication of this report, further evidence has emerged to support the link between oral health and general health.
Robust studies have shown that cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and complications of diabetes, respiratory infections, stroke, and adverse pregnancy outcomes are significantly associated with tooth loss and periodontal disease. Cullinan et al (2009) conclude that “adult oral health can no longer be ignored”. Protecting natural teeth from decay and periodontal disease, and a strong focus on early detection and prevention of these disorders is crucial.
Our mouths are full of bacteria. Germs in the mouth (bacteria) use the sugar in food to make acids. Over time, the acids can attack the tooth, creating decay leading to a cavity. These bacteria, along with mucus and other particles, constantly form a sticky, colourless film called “plaque” on teeth. Brushing and flossing help get rid of plaque. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form “tartar” that brushing doesn’t clean. Only professional cleaning by a dental health professional can remove tartar. The longer plaque and tartar are on teeth, the more harmful they become. Untreated decay can become so advanced that the tooth must be removed (extraction).
Bacteria cause inflammation of the gums called gingivitis. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dental health professional. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.
Advanced gum disease is called “periodontitis”. The gums pull away from the teeth and the body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection starts to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.