Why Good Dental Hygiene Is Important Beyond Your Teeth

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Taking care of your teeth doesn’t just prevent cavities.

Dr. Martinna Bertolini, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dentistry, said diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer's disease are all related to dental health.

The bacteria that cause oral problems are typically found only in the mouth, but have been shown to cause inflammation in other parts of the body, Bertolini said.

“We know that in some patients, these bacteria may spread from the mouth to distant organs in the body,” she said. “Now are there ways to understand exactly what bacteria are in the mouth and what bacteria are in distant organs?”

Studies have found that some of these bacteria can cause inflammation in the brain, lead to cognitive decline, and have been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Some bacteria have also been found on brain aneurysms, which can burst.

“They may cause local inflammation and therefore may also be associated with the worst outcomes of aneurysms,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini said there is a direct correlation between diabetes and oral health. If patients have diabetes, they have a higher chance of developing periodontal disease, which is the inflammation of the gums around the teeth. However, if a patient does have periodontal disease due to diabetes, the more often they treat the periodontal disease (with cleanings or surgery, if necessary), the more they can reduce oral inflammation to a level equivalent to taking extra medication for their diabetes.

“We always emphasize these because of the dual link between periodontal disease and diabetes and the impact of diabetes on periodontal disease,” Bertolini said. “This is one of the biggest issues we often discuss with our patients.”

To maintain good dental hygiene, people should brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste, although fluoride is widely believed to be harmful to the body.

I still recommend that patients brush their teeth at least twice a day,” she says.

Drinking unfiltered fluoridated tap water is also beneficial in preventing tooth decay, as is drinking black tea, which contains high amounts of fluoride.

Smoking can also have negative effects on dental health, Bertolini said, noting that some e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, making e-cigarettes not a good choice.

“We always talk about the lungs and the problems that come with it, but periodontal disease still needs to be related to smoking,” she said.

It's also important to see the dentist at least once a year and learn how to floss properly, she said.

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