Unfortunately, dental hygiene and preventive dental health is overlooked by many. Very few people realize the importance of regular dental visits and teeth cleanings until they run into a dental nightmare and walk out with a $3,000 bill and a painful mouth. Interestingly, according to a Gallup Poll, one-third of Americans did not visit their dentist in the past year. Skipping the dentist can cause severe health outcomes not only in the oral cavity but throughout the body and the brain.
Major ailments linked to poor oral hygiene
The two most well-known diseases that go hand in hand with poor dentition (the condition of one’s teeth) are heart disease and diabetes. People with these two diseases are more likely to have periodontal disease, which is commonly known as gum disease and results from bacteria and plaque buildup causing inflammation. The gums, teeth and underlying bone structure can be severely damaged, resulting in extreme dental and other complications that affect the body.
The link between periodontal disease and heart disease has been proven strong, but the cause and effects are unknown. The inflammation from tooth disease is thought to cause inflammation in the blood vessels. Diabetics are also at an increased risk for poor oral hygiene due to their inability to control blood sugar, resulting in more sugar, bacteria and inflammation. Poor dentition is also closely linked to mental health problems.
A recent study published in PLOS ONE illustrated the strong relationship between mental health and oral hygiene, stating that individuals with Alzheimer’s dementia are more likely to have poor dentition. “A number of studies have shown that having few teeth, possibly as a consequence of earlier gum disease, is associated with a greater risk of developing dementia,” said Mark Ide, the study’s lead author from the Dental Institute at King’s College London.
Additionally, people who are severely mentally ill or who abuse substances often neglect their oral health and, as a result, have severe tooth decay, leading to soft tissue and bone structure diseases. Tobacco and alcohol are known to cause cancer in the oral cavity, and those who abuse these substances are more likely to grind their teeth (bruxism), have gingivitis and develop tooth abscesses. Alcoholics are known to have poor dietary habits and, as a result, are deficient in many vitamins, leading to dental complications.
People with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa usually have severe tooth and gum disease due to the increase acidity from purging. In fact dental health professionals sometimes are the first clinicians to recognize signs of eating disorders due to the patient’s oral hygiene, according to the literature.
Unfortunately, education on dental hygiene and the importance of preventive dental care is widely lacking and, as a result, many individuals are suffering from oral disease and high dental bills. Additionally, primary care physicians and psychiatrists might fail to educate their patients on the importance of dental visits if they neglect the oral cavity and focus only on the internal organs. Taking care of your health is a whole-body approach — from the brain to the oral cavity, every part of the body is somehow linked to other parts.
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About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.