Oral health is not only important to your appearance and sense of well-being, but also to your overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and premature and low weight babies. Untreated cavities can also be painful and lead to serious infections.
Maintaining good oral health includes keeping teeth free from cavities and preventing gum disease. Poor oral health can affect your appearance and self-esteem, and has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. Poor oral health can also affect your ability to chew and digest food properly.
Good nutrition is important to helping build strong teeth and gums that can resist disease and promote healing.
Smoking is a major risk factor for oral and dental disease, including oral cancer. Tobacco reduces blood flow to the gums therefore, the gums do not get the oxygen and nutrients needed to stay healthy and prevent bacterial infection.
Oral health needs to be a priority throughout all stages of life, especially since older adults and seniors are keeping their teeth longer than ever before. However, older adults may have less access to oral care services and dentists because of lower incomes and/or a lack of dental insurance.
Seniors living in long-term care facilities are at particular risk of complications from poor oral health because of frailty, poor health and increased dependence on others for personal care. In many cases, oral health problems in residents go undetected until there are acute symptoms, such as pain or infection.
Besides pain and discomfort, poor oral health can also contribute to a number of serious health issues.
Health Risks Of Poor Oral Health
Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums, which may also affect the bone supporting the teeth. Plaque is a sticky colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums.
Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious diseases, including heart disease and stroke. The bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth into the bloodstream, and has been linked to the clogging of arteries and damage to heart valves. The same bacteria can also travel to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions.
There is also a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease, and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.
Oral health is also important for pregnant women. Studies show that pregnant women with gum disease might be at a higher risk of delivering pre-term, low birth weight babies than women without gum disease. Babies who are pre-term or low birth weight have a higher risk of developmental complications, asthma, ear infections, birth abnormalities, behavioral difficulties and a higher risk of infant death.
Minimizing Your Risk
To maintain good oral health, you should take the following steps:
- Brush and floss your teeth daily.
- Visit your dental professional regularly to have your mouth examined. See your dental professional immediately if you notice any problems.
- Eat a healthy diet according to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating.
- Do not smoke. If you do smoke, make sure to visit your dental professional regularly.
- If you are pregnant, be sure to eat healthy foods and maintain good oral health.
- Brush your children’s teeth for them, until they have the dexterity to write their own name (not print). They should then be able to brush their own teeth with your guidance.