The hidden health risks of poor oral hygiene

For most of us, brushing our teeth twice a day is a habit that was instilled in us from an early age. We know this is an important habit—we do it to prevent cavities and gum disease—but the extent to which it affects our overall health may be less known.

Research shows that poor oral hygiene isn't just linked to our teeth, but to a variety of health problems, including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

“Our mouths are the gateway to our bodies,” explains dentist Neil Sikka of Bupa Dental Care. “All of our teeth are surrounded by gums. The gums have a blood supply. If the gums become infected and inflamed due to poor oral hygiene, bacteria and inflammation markers can enter the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body.

At the same time, there is growing recognition of the role the gut microbiome plays in our health, but less is known about how the gut microbiome applies to our mouths. Dr Safa Al-Naher, director and chief dentist at Serene Clinic in London, said: “Scientists have discovered 800 species of bacteria in the oral flora, which is, in fact, the second most abundant and diverse community in the body after the gut. Microbiome. Normally, the body's natural defenses and good oral care, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria in check. However, without proper oral hygiene, 'bad' bacteria can get to the point where infection can occur levels, leading to these more serious health problems.

The health effects of poor oral hygiene

Here, Sikka outlines five health risks of not taking care of your teeth and mouth:

Alzheimer's disease

“Recent research from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) School of Dentistry has discovered for the first time a link between oral disease and Alzheimer's disease through the amyloid beta protein. Amyloid beta is used by all cells in the body in response to infection People with Alzheimer's disease have large deposits of this protein in their brains. Because the oral disease is caused by infection, beta-amyloid is found around the outer surfaces of infected teeth and gums. This protein may then be filtered into the blood circulation and potentially transported to the brain, hence the potential link between poor oral health and Alzheimer's disease.

Close-up of dentist holding angled mirror and hook while examining patient. Young woman with open mouth undergoing dental checkup in hospital.
It’s more than just brushing your teeth twice a day (Photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty/Digital Vision)


There is good evidence that people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing gum disease. Now, research is starting to show that the link goes both ways; gum disease and infection increase blood sugar levels. They interact with each other, showing that if one has developed, the other Development risks also increase.

Liver cancer and liver disease

One study showed that poor oral health is associated with a 75% increased risk of liver cancer. The liver helps clear bacteria, so it is thought that when the liver is affected by disease, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis or cancer, its function decreases .Bacteria will survive longer and may cause more damage. Some bacteria have been found to originate in the mouth.

Lung condition

“If you have a lot of plaque in your mouth, research shows you can inhale that plaque and spread the bacteria to your lungs. This can cause infection or worsen an existing condition. It's more common in older people and can cause Aspiration pneumonia. So while dentists can't diagnose whether a patient has a lung problem, if they have poor oral health, there's evidence that this may increase the risk of lung damage, and we make patients aware of this so They can raise this through: their GP.

heart disease and stroke

“While there are no identifiable signs in the mouth, there is a link between inflammatory markers (signs of inflammation throughout the body) found in the blood of people with chronic gum disease and those with stroke and heart disease. When I look When it comes to patients who have these conditions or have had these conditions in the past, I would emphasize the importance of maintaining good oral health even more, and I recommend that all patients who fall into this group see a dentist and hygienist regularly.

Portrait of two friends shot against earth toned background
If you follow a few simple steps, you can have beautiful oral health (Photo: We are/Getty/Digital Vision)

How to improve your oral health

Dr. Al-Naher shares some simple tips to help ensure a healthy and balanced oral microbiome:

  • “Eat a variety of foods, which leads to a diverse microbiome. Beans, legumes and fruits in particular contain high amounts of fiber, which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  • “Eat more fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir, which all contain healthy bacteria and can reduce the prevalence of pathogenic bacteria.”
  • “Eat prebiotic foods: Prebiotics like fiber stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. These include artichokes, bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples.
  • “Reduce sugar intake. A high-sugar diet promotes the growth of acidophilic bacteria, such as Streptococcus mutanswhich can lead to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease and suppress beneficial bacteria.
  • “Avoid carbonated and diet drinks as they can cause tooth erosion and cavities, alter the balance of microorganisms, and disrupt beneficial bacteria.”
  • “Choose a toothpaste that boosts your microbiome. Good oral hygiene is the foundation of all oral care.
  • “Brush twice a day with a sonic toothbrush and floss daily (otherwise you may not be cleaning 40% of the tooth surface).”
  • “Use mouthwash, but brush at different times or you'll wash away the protective fluoride in the toothpaste. For the same reason, don't rinse your mouth with water after brushing. Salt water is a good natural alternative to mouthwash because It kills harmful bacteria and promotes the growth of good bacteria.

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