One secret to preventing dementia, diabetes, and heart disease may lie in your oral health habits. Here’s the dental routine to follow

Although the connection between oral health and general health is well-documented, it is not often discussed during health or dental visits. It should be: An April 2022 report from the National Institutes of Health found that 90% of adults ages 20 to 64 have tooth decay, while nearly 50% of adults ages 45 to 64 have gum disease.

Oral disease has a lot to do with overall health, said Dr. Michael Roizen, chief health officer at the Cleveland Clinic. Research shows a link between your dental health habits and whether you have diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, stroke or heart disease.

If we don't take care of our oral health, Roizen said, cavities (cavities) and gum disease can enter the bloodstream and cause plaque rupture in the arteries or promote inflammation in the brain and other parts of the body. “Flossing your teeth is equivalent to taking 8,000 steps a day,” says Roizen. “That's really powerful.”

Think of the body as a human donut

In 2019, the World Health Organization ranked permanent tooth decay as the most common health condition in its Global Burden of Disease report.Oral diseases affect approximately 3.5 billion people worldwide

What we often don’t realize is that this is not only harmful to our mouths, but also to our bodies. “People think their heads and teeth are separate from the rest of their bodies, but that's not the case,” says Dr. Maria Ryan, DDS, PhD. PhD in Oral Biology, Chief Clinical Officer of Colgate-Palmolive Company. Thinking of the body as an interconnected system helps reinforce how it affects all areas of health and the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene, Ryan said.

Naveen Jain, founder of Viome, a company that develops personalized toothpastes and supplements based on the human microbiome, likens the human body to a donut. “There's a tube running through us,” Jayne said, noting that when we breathe, billions of microorganisms enter the body through the tube. “When the protective barrier is broken down, the body gets systemic inflammation. It's the same concept if your gums are leaking. If our heart or even our fingers are bleeding, we try to find out why. If our gums are bleeding, Well anyway. In both cases, all microorganisms have free access to the bloodstream.

That's where the trouble started, Ryan said.Not surprisingly, in a study published in hypertensionThe American Heart Association Journal Gum Disease found that people with gum disease are twice as likely to have a heart attack and three times more likely to have a stroke than people without inflammatory gum disease. “People think, 'What's the worst thing that could happen? I could lose a tooth,'” Ryan said. “Well, it could be worse than that.”

Poor oral health can also affect our confidence

If the possibility of heart disease or diabetes isn't enough to get you to the dentist, maybe the idea of ​​looking good will. After all, dental hygiene is also front and center in all of our human interactions. If you're uncomfortable with bad breath or missing teeth, it may affect your ability to move around the world with confidence. “This could impact someone's ability to find a job or their relationships,” Ryan said. “This is important on so many levels.”

Weak teeth can affect how you deal with health problems. Ryan points to healthy eating as an example. Ryan said if a doctor advises a patient with poor oral health to eat more fruits and vegetables, the patient may find it difficult to eat foods like apples, carrots and broccoli if missing teeth and cavities are a factor.

When all of these factors hinder a person's ability to engage socially and personally, their mental health can suffer. A 2022 study documented a link between poor oral health and increased anxiety and depression.

How to protect your oral health and overall well-being

Ryan said an important part of solving the oral health crisis is prevention and education. Colgate-Palmolive’s Know Your OQ oral health literacy program aims to change some of these statistics and raise awareness about the importance of simple and consistent oral hygiene.

The American Dental Association and the World Health Organization recommend six basic steps to prevent gum disease:

  1. Brush twice a day for two minutes each time
  2. Floss once a day.
  3. See the dentist every six months.
  4. Limit sugary drinks and snacks.
  5. Avoid all forms of tobacco
  6. Use protective equipment when exercising

Ryan said it may seem like a very basic message, but if everyone did it, oral health statistics wouldn't be what they are now.

Dr. Eda, a practicing dentist who teaches oral health policy and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School of Dental Medicine, said she takes every opportunity to incorporate education into her interactions with patients so her approach is as preventive as possible, rather than passively. Just like high blood pressure, with a lot of dental disease or concerns — such as early tooth decay — you can't feel anything,” Jiang said. “You may not feel anything until the disease progresses. You can have a patient come in, the dentist diagnoses five cavities, and they feel fine.

But by that time, the situation has become critical, and patients are suffering tremendous pain—especially periodontal disease, Jiang said. To add insult to injury, patients now face exorbitant dental bills to pay for care and save their teeth. “We have an uphill battle,” she said. “We want to diagnose, but there's always the suspicion that dentists are just trying to make money.”

From Ryan's perspective, this makes education and normalization of these ideas critical to changing the trajectory of how we build and prioritize oral health.

Relatedly, knowing where to get dental care can also be a barrier, she said. In addition to dental clinics, dental schools offer cleaning services, as well as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). “Not just prevention strategies, but also the signs and symptoms, so if they have a disease, they go and get treatment. There are a lot of places to get care.

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