How Oral Health is Just as Important as Overall Health

Updated: Jul 25

Have you ever gone a year without visiting a general practitioner? If so, you’re part of the 7% of Canadians that don’t [1]! However if you’ve gone a year without visiting a dentist, you’re 1 of 9,397,500 million Canadians (i.e 25% of the population) that don’t [2]. Quite alarming, isn’t it?

By: Farah Farhat

Have you ever gone a year without visiting a general practitioner? If so, you’re part of the 7% of Canadians that don’t [1]! However, if you’ve gone a year without visiting a dentist, you’re 1 of 9,397,500 million Canadians (i.e. 25% of the population) that don’t [2]. Quite alarming, isn’t it?

Well, it shouldn’t be.

Many people forgo dental care because of the cost, lack of time, anxiety, or the wrong perception that they have a “healthy mouth,” among other reasons [3]. Little did they know that disregarding their oral health has greater implications on their overall health. In this article, we will outline these implications, and if you haven’t been to the dentist this year yet, why you MUST go.

The Mouth-Body Connection

First of all, you must know that there IS a link between your oral health and overall health. When microorganisms from oral infections enter the bloodstream or airways, they have the potential to increase the risk of certain health issues, like heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disorders [4].

When I was shadowing a dentist this summer, a patient came for a checkup, and we noticed a huge calculus around the top of their upper right canine. Calculus, or tartar, is a hardened dental plaque made of minerals in your saliva that form crystals that harden around and on the teeth [5]. Sometimes tartar and the formation of plaques are inevitable even if you brush, floss, and take care of your teeth regularly. The reason is that food residues can easily stick to your tongue, gum line, or fillings, and no matter how well you brush your teeth, they remain [6].

If not checked by a dentist, bacteria from tartar can lead to progressive gum disease such as gingivitis or periodontitis*. When your immune system sends chemicals to counter this, the chemicals mix with the microorganisms and can consequently damage bones and tissues around your teeth [6]. I did not know this when I was with the dentist that day, but now it all makes sense. When the dentist used her explorer to check the calculus, it only took her a few pokes for the calculus to fall off. When it did, part of the patient’s gum fell with it too, and the inside of the tooth’s pocket was visible. The dentist subsequently removed the calculus from the patient’s mouth and explained how this can cause even greater problems for their health, considering that they are senior and are more susceptible to heart disease [7].

According to ongoing studies, bacteria from gum disease can form plaques that clog arteries and contribute to endocarditis, a condition in which the inner lining of the heart and heart valves are inflamed [4].

“A national study of Canadians between the ages of 36 and 69 found that those with severe gum disease had between three to seven times the risk of fatal coronary heart disease” [4].

Moreover, gum disease has also been linked to [4]:

  1. Respiratory disorders: emphysema, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases;

  2. Diabetes;

  3. Premature labour and delivery in pregnant women;

  4. Sleeping, behavioural, and developmental problems in children; and

  5. Oral and pancreatic cancer

Oral Hygiene and COVID-19 Connection?

A British study titled “could there be a link between oral hygiene and the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infections?” found that 52% of the deaths caused by the coronavirus also occurs in healthy individuals [8]. Desperate to find the reason why, the researchers first identified that the main complications of COVID-19 include blood clots, pneumonia, sepsis, septic shocks, and acute respiratory distress syndrome [8]. Then, they speculated that SARS-CoV-2 and bacterial load are linked [8]. The researchers concluded that individuals with periodontal disease are at a 25% risk of heart disease and 3x the risk of getting diabetes — both risk factors of severe COVID-19 [8]. They recommended that everyone regularly maintains their oral hygiene to reduce the bacterial load in the mouth and ensure overall health to prevent a SARS-Cov-2 infection [8].

Upper respiratory disorders and infections also put an individual at risk of contracting the virus [8]. One of the causes of such health issues is when we breathe bacteria in infected teeth and swollen gums into the lungs. Therefore, having regular oral check-ups with your general dentist is crucial, especially with flu season around the corner!

Figure 2 [14]

Maintaining Oral Health

If you live in Canada, you must know that we are among the countries with the best access to oral health care in the world [9]!

That being said, you must consider this article a sign from the universe to get your teeth checked if you haven’t done so this year already! Moreover, dentists recommend having your teeth cleaned every 6 months and visiting more often, depending on whether you require further oral health needs [10].

Aside from brushing and flossing regularly and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet, try to invest in an electric toothbrush! Studies have shown that they can easily get rid of plaques compared to manual models [6]. Protecting yourself from avoidable infections has never been easier; all you have to do is take care of yourself, and that includes both your oral and overall health!

* Gingivitis: inflammation of the gums due to the accumulation of plaques or bacteria [11]. Periodontitis: severe gum infection that could lead to tooth loss and other health issues [12].

Editors

Hadeel Alhadi, Ibrahim Alayche and Rhea Verma

Designers

Majd Al-Aarg

References

  1. Government of Canada SC. [Internet]. Statistics Canada: Canada’s national statistical agency. 2020 [cited 2020 Sep19]. Available: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/start

  2. A snapshot of oral health in Canada [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Dental Association; 2017. n.d. [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://www.cda-adc.ca/stateoforalhealth/snap/

  3. Why Adults Forgo Dental Care: Evidence from a New National Survey [Internet]. Chicago (IL): American Dental Association; 2020. 2014 [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_1114_1.pdf?la=en

  4. Oral Health and Overall Health [Internet]. Burlington (ON): Ontario Dental Hygienists’ Association; 2020. 2016 [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://odha.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Overall-Health-14-1-final.pdf

  5. Tartar on Teeth [Internet]. Cincinnati (OH): Dental Care; 2020. n.d. [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://www.dentalcare.com/en-us/patient-education/patient-materials/what-is-tartar

  6. Friedman M [Internet]. New York (NY): WebMD; 2020. What is tartar: 6 tips to remove tartar buildup; 2020 Aug 23 [cited 2020 Sep19]. Available: https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/tartar-dental-calculus-overview

  7. Understand your risks to prevent a heart attack [Internet]. Dallas (TX): American Heart Association; 2020. 2016 Jun 30 [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/understand-your-risks-to-prevent-a-heart-attack

  8. Mandal A [Internet]. Manchester (UK): AZoNetwork; 2020. Oral hygiene and severity of COVID-19 – the connection; 2020 Jun 30 [cited 2020 Sep19]. Available: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200630/Oral-hygiene-and-severity-of-COVID-19-e28093-the-connection.aspx

  9. The state of oral health in Canada [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Dental Association; 2017. 2017 Mar [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://www.cda-adc.ca/stateoforalhealth/_files/TheStateofOralHealthinCanada.pdf

  10. How often should I visit my dentist? What will happen if I don’t? [Internet]. Winnipeg (MB): Academy Dental Group; 2020. n.d. [cited 2020 Sep 19]. Available: https://www.academydentalgroup.com/site/dental-blog-news-west-winnipeg-dentist/2018/10/26/how-often-should-i-visit-dentist

  11. Newman T [Internet]. Brighton (UK): Medical News Today; 2020. Causes and treatment of gingivitis; 2018 Jan 5 [cited 2020 Oct 4]. Available: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/241721

  12. Periodontitis [Internet]. Rochester (MN): Mayo Clinic; 2020. 2020 Feb 14 [cited 2020 Oct 4]. Available: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/periodontitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354473

  13. Anabella Dental. Good oral health [Internet image]. 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 4]. Available from: https://anabelladental.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/good-oral-health.jpg

  14. Gannett CDN. Electric toothbrush roundup hero [Internet image]. n.d. [cited 2020 Oct 4]. Available from: https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2020/01/16/USAT/fca35323-3289-4a09-a7e8-29f02be4b564-Electric-toothbrush-roundup-hero5.jpg?crop=1967,1107,x16,y0&width=1967&height=1107&format=pjpg&auto=webp

#COVID19 #Dentistry #OralHealth #teeth

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