Healthy mouth, healthy body: The five big diseases you can help keep at bay by brushing your teeth

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As new research shows as many as one in four British adults are failing to brush for the recommended two minutes twice a day, a leading health charity is looking to spread awareness about the true value of keeping your mouth clean and healthy.

Ahead of World Oral Health Day on Tuesday 20 March, the Oral Health Foundation wants to highlight the importance of taking care of your mouth and says the benefits of doing so can often have a tremendous impact to your overall wellbeing, it’s not just about reducing dental decay.

Over many years, poor oral health has been proven to have close links to many serious conditions and diseases. 

Here are the top five diseases that have been linked to gum disease and poor oral health. 

Heart disease

There is a wealth of scientific evidence that says if you have gum disease, you are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery (heart) disease than those with healthy gums. 

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation says: “When you have gum disease, it is thought that bacteria from the mouth can get into their bloodstream. The bacteria produce a protein that causes the platelets in the blood to stick together in the blood vessels of the heart. This can make clots more likely to form.”

Blood clots can reduce normal blood flow, preventing the heart from receiving the nutrients and oxygen it needs. This could lead to a heart attack.

Diabetes

Advanced forms of gum disease could contribute to the development of pre-diabetes – a precursor of type 2 diabetes. 

There are currently 3.6 million diabetics in the United Kingdom, and for those people, the risk of gum disease is far greater.

“If you have diabetes, you are more prone to infections, including gum disease,” adds Dr Carter.

“It is important that diabetics keep to twice daily brushing habits, clean in between their teeth daily with interdental brushes or floss and have regular dental appointments so that any gum disease can be diagnosed and managed early.” 

Untreated gum disease can increase blood sugar and would put you at risk of diabetic complications. 

By getting your oral health to a good level, you can also help control your diabetes.

Alzheimer’s disease

Recent research of more than 250,000 people has shown that those suffering from gum disease for ten years or longer are 70 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. 

Infections, damage to blood vessels and oxidative stress may aggravate inflammation in the brain and play an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and memory loss.

“Quite how this is linked to the inflammation from gum disease is the subject of more current research,” adds Dr Carter.

Cancer

Mouth cancer is one of the few cancers which has seen instances grow in recent years and it is predicted to continue increasing. While brushing daily may not protect you from mouth cancer, it does give you an opportunity to notice any changes in your mouth which could be early signs of mouth cancer.

Dr Carter says: “Like other cancers, early diagnosis transforms your chance of beating the disease. Twice daily brushing is a great opportunity to quickly check for anything in your mouth that is out of the ordinary. 

“Be alert to ulcers which do not heal within three weeks, red or white patches in the mouth and unusual lumps or swellings in the mouth or head and neck area. If you notice any of these, it is essential that you tell your dentist or doctor immediately.”

Pneumonia

Bacterial chest infections are thought to be caused by breathing in fine droplets from the throat and mouth into the lungs. This can cause infections, such as pneumonia, or could make an existing condition worse.

If you suffer from gum disease, there will be a greater chance of more bacteria from your mouth, moving to the lungs, leading to a greater chance of chest infections,” adds Dr Carter.

“This is a particular problem for vulnerable groups of people, such as the elderly, and can lead to severe, even fatal, risks of not addressed urgently.

“Offering appropriate support for the oral health of these vulnerable people within healthcare environments can have major benefits on other aspects of their health and quality of life. 

By adopting some very simple daily routines and habits, you can help prevent these potentially life-changing illnesses.

Brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste as well as daily interdental cleaning is a great place to start. You should also reduce how much sugar you eat and get your oral health checked at the dentist regularly.

The Oral Health Foundation runs a Dental Helpline which takes calls and online enquiries about a range of oral health issues. If you have a question or would like reassurance about a particularly oral health issue, call them on 01788 539 780 or email them via helpline@dentalhealth.org.

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