The different systems in our body are interconnected. The health of one can often influence the function of others. Take, for example, how our oral health has consequences that go beyond the mouth and teeth. The effects of good oral hygiene can extend to physical and even mental health. Several studies showed how keeping teeth clean and healthy may protect the mind from various memory problems (and vice versa).
Memory-Related Problems Caused by Poor Dental Hygiene
The mouth is the primary gateway into the body. Various studies suggest that dental health problems (like gum disease and tooth loss) may be linked to memory-related health issues. Challenges with memory are sometimes more apparent in elderly patients. Studies have suggested a link between periodontal disease and a decline in cognitive ability. When bacteria from your mouth enters the bloodstream, it is transported to different parts of the body, including the brain.
When we skip brushing and flossing, plaque accumulates in and around the gums and may lead to periodontal disease (commonly called gum disease). Gum disease can cause a harmful bacteria called Porphyromonas gingivalis being released into the bloodstream. When these bacteria travel to the brain, the immune system responds; and the resulting inflammation may kill brain cells in the process. This may increase the risk of developing memory-related health problems (e.g. dementia, Alzheimer’s disease) in the future.
The International Society of Vascular Behavioral and Cognitive Disorders reported that that poor dental health is likely to increase the risk of dementia by 30 to 40 percent. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients with gum disease are found to have Porphyromonas gingivalis (bacteria released by inflamed gums) and related toxins in their brain tissue.
The Link between Oral Health and Self Esteem
It is common knowledge that stress has a significant impact on our mental health. In addition, studies have established a link between the health of the mouth and mind. Smiling can increase the level of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin in your body. It does not only benefit a healthier mind — it also lowers heart rate and restores our blood pressure to a more healthy level.
Frequent results of poor dental hygiene include:
- Gum disease – Gum disease (e.g. gingivitis and periodontitis) is a prevalent yet under-appreciated oral health issue. Symptoms usually do not manifest until it has reached an advanced stage. Its symptoms include:
- Red, swollen gums
- Receding gums
- Formation of deep pockets between teeth and gums
- Signs of infection (pus)
- Bad breath – Also known as halitosis, bad breath can be a warning sign of gum disease. It is caused by bacteria that build up on the teeth, tongue, and gums. Other causes of bad breath include:
- Eating spicy foods
- Tooth decay
- Crash diets
- Certain health conditions (e.g. tonsilitis, acid reflux)
- Discoloured teeth – Discoloured teeth may make a person self-conscious. Discolouration can range from white streaks, yellow streaks or brown spots. Common causes of teeth stains include:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Enamel erosion
- Tobacco use
- Health issues (e.g. calcium deficiency, liver disease, celiac disease)
- Certain foods and drinks
- Tooth decay – Infrequent brushing allows the bacteria in your mouth to produce acids and other toxins that soften the surface of tooth enamel and damage the pulp (the inner part of the tooth). Things that contribute to tooth decay include:
- Irregular brushing and flossing of teeth
- Dry mouth
- Medical conditions (like gastroesophageal reflux disorder)
- Food high in carbohydrates and sugar
Teeth whitening services can help restore your pearly whites for a bright, beautiful smile.
Health experts have found that the relationship between physical health and mental health is cyclical. Mental health issues make people less likely to take good care of themselves physically. Poor physical health can have a significant effect on emotional and mental health. As a result, the person loses interest in a healthy lifestyle and habits, which yield mental wellness. This is definitely the case with good dental and mental health routines. With healthy dental practices, you will have both good oral and mental health.
Protect Mental Health by Practicing Dental Hygiene
As we age, specific health issues become more prominent, especially dental health among seniors. Good dental hygiene becomes even more imperative when we consider its potential effect on mental health. By understanding the best ways to clean your teeth and gums and having the right items in your cabinet, you can improve your overall health.
Here are some tips for a healthy body and mind:
- Brushing – Dental experts recommend brushing for at least two minutes. For a thorough cleaning, follow the techniques approved by the Canadian Dental Association (CDA). Brush your teeth before going to bed at night to prevent plaque buildup, tooth decay, and gum disease.
A good toothbrush is vital. Look for a head and bristles that are small enough to reach the crevices of your molars, where food particles often lodge after eating. The International Dental Health Association recommends adults to use a small or medium-sized toothbrush. For the best clean, use a toothbrush with the CDA Seal of Approval which guarantees meeting strict manufacturing regulations.
- Flossing – Daily flossing is as essential as brushing when it comes to maintaining good dental hygiene. While brushing cleans the plaque building on the surface of the teeth, flossing removes the food remnants lodged between teeth that a toothbrush cannot reach. Your dental hygienist will help you choose the right type of interdental cleaning aid (e.g. floss thread or ribbon, water flosser, or other options) during the checkup and instruct you in the correct flossing technique.
- Rinse with Mouthwash – Mouthwashes contain ingredients that help treat dental health issues, strengthen and protect teeth from plaque and cavities, and help prevent gum inflammation. Check with your dentist which type of mouthwash is right for you.
- Eat a Well-Balanced Diet – Healthy eating is also beneficial. Choose foods packed with essential vitamins and minerals to provide the nutrition your body needs. Avoid eating sticky, starchy, or sweet foods and consuming acidic and alcoholic drinks to prevent erosion of the enamel.
- See a Dentist Regularly – Visiting a dentist for dental checkups and cleanings at least twice a year. This helps identify oral health problems at an early stage and keeps the teeth and gums healthy over the long run. Keep in mind that preventive care and maintenance are a crucial part of your oral hygiene.
As we grow older, maintaining good dental hygiene remains a vital health concern. Make oral care a part of your daily routine and visit a family dentist that specializes in dental care for seniors. By making the right choices and practicing good oral care, we can age happily and enjoy the benefits of good oral health.
Dr. Mark Rhody Dentistry understands the importance of quality dental care for you and the whole family. We can help you maintain excellent oral and overall health through regular dental checkups and preventive care. For a trusted Etobicoke dentist, contact us here, or call (416) 231-4281 to book an appointment.