Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body?
- July 25, 2016
Nobody really likes the idea that there are whole communities of different types of bacteria in their mouths. But science has learned a lot about the mouth’s “microbiome,” as it’s called. One of the findings is that, in a healthy mouth, those communities of germs live in a sort of mutual truce. That’s because they prefer different areas: the tongue, the tonsils, the gum areas around the teeth, the cheeks, and so on. Every community thrives and none of them try to “take over” another community’s “turf.”
That’s in a healthy mouth. Things stay in balance. But what happens in an unhealthy mouth is another story. Research has also shown that an unhealthy mouth can affect several different parts of the body far from the mouth.
You might not see how that could happen, but the answer lies in infection. An out-of-balance bacterial community is a key cause of mouth infections such as thrush, early gum disease, gum disease that extends below the gumline, and several others.
The bacteria that live in your mouth also produce acid, and that acid eats away at the enamel of teeth. Any break in the enamel’s surface, and in the underlying dentin layer, can allow bacteria to enter the tooth. That can result in infection. And if that infection gets deep enough, it can enter the bloodstream. Bacteria can also be inhaled and reach the lungs.
Many studies have linked dental infections to heart problems, diabetes, and pneumonia. By some estimates, heart attacks linked to long-term dental infections are twice as likely to be fatal. Infections of the mouth have also been linked to low birth weight in babies.
Chronic (long-term) mouth infections cause a state of inflammation which is one of the body’s responses.Inflammation isn’t limited to the mouth, so it can lead to the development of a number of diseases and can make existing diseases worse.
As more research is conducted, science will probably discover that the effects of an unhealthy mouth will probably be linked to other health conditions..
The bottom line is that mouth infections can be a big deal.
What causes a mouth to become unhealthy?
Some things that can contribute to an unhealthy mouth are smoking, dry mouth, either due to not producing enough saliva or not drinking enough; poor diet; and poor care of the teeth and gums.
For almost all of us in the United States, those factors are within our control. All we need to do is to make some lifestyle changes.
Give it up.
Quitting smoking is difficult for most people; as Mark Twain once wrote, “There is nothing hard about quitting smoking. I have done it hundreds of times.” Your medical doctor is a good resource for stop-smoking tips and techniques. Your doctor can even offer one medication that has been shown to help people quit. The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society also offer advice on their websites.
Dry mouth that happens even when someone has taken in enough liquid is a medical condition that can be medically treated. Increasing your fluid intake, though, is an easy matter for most people – but may not be for people with jobs that only allow rest breaks at wide intervals. They may have to limit their water consumption. For those people, chewing sugar-free gum can help stimulate the flow of saliva and keep their mouths moist.
Poor diet can be the result of money troubles, not having access to healthy food (usually in inner city areas), or making the wrong food choices. Whenever you can, steer clear of sugar-rich “junk” foods that have little nutritional value. If your circumstances allow, get a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, whole grains, and proteins like beef, chicken, pork, and fish. For vegetarians, beans, tofu, tempeh, and even green peas are good protein sources.
Do the daily.
Taking care of your teeth and gums is a fairly simple matter: brush thoroughly at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush. Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months. Floss at least once a day, and get regular dental checkups and cleaning.
So, take good care of your mouth and your teeth, Your smile will thank you, and you’ll be able to eat the foods you love without pain. Even more important is that you’re likely to stay healthier over the course of your life.
Fox Family Dentistry is Burke, VA is committed to the health of your teeth and gums, and to your happiness. See us for regular checkups and cleanings, and for help with any dental issues. Call 586-698-7135.