Taking care of your mouth should be a lifelong priority, but as you age, dental health becomes more important than ever before. As science has found, there is a strong connection between the health of your teeth and gums and the health of the rest of your body. What happens in your mouth has a reverberating echo throughout many other systems in the body.
Here are four dental health concerns that face today’s mature adult population.
Heart Health: There has been a strong link found between the health of your circulatory system and the state of your oral health. If excessive bacteria is left for a long time in your mouth, it can allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, these bacteria can cause inflammation, triggering an immune system reaction that signals the liver to release C-reactive protein (CRP).
CRP may sound familiar because it’s used in blood tests to evaluate one’s risk of developing coronary artery disease. If CRP is released continuously over time, it can cause the stiffening of arteries and increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart attacks. In addition, if the bacteria find their way to the inner linings of the heart, they can create pockets of bacterial growth, causing infection to develop. This is called endocarditis and can be fatal.
Loss of Bone Mass. Over 70 percent of American adults are missing at least one tooth, and as you age, the likelihood of losing one or more of your teeth dramatically increases. Multiple untreated missing teeth can be detrimental to the structure and health of your jawbone.
The bones around your mouth are kept strong by the root of the tooth is intact and getting stimulated by everyday activities such as chewing. Once teeth are no longer rooted in the jawbone, up to 80 percent of bone mass can be lost in those areas. Bone loss in your jaw is what causes the mouth to shrink inward, often making you look much older than you actually are.
Oral Cancer. Cancer in the mouth can be caused by many things, most notably tobacco use, but other common causes have recently been found. Links have been found between oral cancer and some types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted sexually. Recent studies show that 70 percent of cancers of the oropharynx, the part of the throat just behind the mouth, may be linked to HPV.
Early warning signs of cancers in the oral cavity or the oropharynx are sores that don’t heal or cause persistent pain. Most people experience sores in the mouth at some point in their lives, and the vast majority of those are benign. If a sore doesn’t heal on its own in a week or two, you should have it looked it at.
Diabetic Complications. Over 25 percent of adults over sixty-five in the United States are living with diabetes, and according to the American Dental Association (ADA), one in five cases of total tooth loss is linked to diabetes. Gum disease is caused by bacteria in the mouth, causing inflammation and infection. Any infection in your body causes blood sugar levels to rise, making it harder to keep diabetes under control. In turn, poor blood sugar control has been shown to contribute to gingivitis and periodontal disease, which eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
Because of this vicious cycle, it is critical that those who have been diagnosed with diabetes, or are at risk of becoming diabetic, diligently care for their teeth by brushing and flossing daily and going to the dentist at least once every six months. I often ask patients with diabetes to visit more often, sometimes every three months, to help make sure they stay as healthy as possible.
Taking good care of your mouth can help your teeth last a lifetime and positively affect your overall health as well. Choose to make your dental health a priority, and you will reap the benefits!