It is well known that good oral health care habits help protect against tooth decay and gum disease. What you may not know is that poor oral hygiene not only leads to dental health issues but may also negatively affects other areas of the body. When the mouth is not healthy, the same oral bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease can enter the bloodstream to reach other areas of the body, leading to an increased risk of disease.
Certain bacteria that are responsible for chronic gum disease may also lead to Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of dementia and brain deterioration. Studies show that when these oral bacteria enter the bloodstream and reach the brain, cognitive function declines. It was also found that patients in the study who had Alzheimer’s Disease also had these bacteria in their brains, while study participants without Alzheimer’s Disease did not have these bacteria in brain tissue. Unrelated studies showed that tooth loss can also affect cognitive function. Those with fewer of their natural teeth had decreased brain functioning than those who had more of their own teeth. It is well known that serious gum disease can lead to tooth loss if left untreated.
Bacterial infections have been found to be just one of the independent factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease. The same bacteria that cause gum infections can enter the bloodstream through inflammation in the gums. Once in the blood, these bacteria cling to platelets. Not only does this lead to infection within the cardiovascular system, but this leads to clumping of the platelets. Clumps of platelets can lead to blood clots, blocking blood flow to the heart and other organs in the body. This may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Severe cases of gum disease, called periodontitis, have been linked to cancer of the pancreas. Studies in men showed that those with a history of severe gum disease were more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than those with healthy gums. This was especially true if the gum disease was severe enough to lead to tooth loss. However, researchers are not sure if gum disease increased cancer risk or if pancreatic cancer increases the risk of gum disease, just that the two are linked. While the gum disease gingivitis was not associated with pancreatic cancer, gingivitis can lead to more severe periodontal gum disease if left untreated.
How to Reduce Your Risks
Good oral health care begins with you. Every day it is important to keep your teeth and gums clean through proper brushing and flossing. Regularly-scheduled exams with the dentist can help detect problems for early treatment to reduce your risk for additional complications.