The Link Between Oral Health and Your Immune System
February 2, 2022 / Category: Dental Care
Brushing and flossing regularly is a proven and effective strategy to keep your family’s oral health at its best. But sometimes this is not enough to keep cavities away. Even if you keep good oral habits, problems can still pop up, so ensuring you get a professional cleaning two times a year — at least — is imperative! There are good reasons why you would want to take good care of your family’s oral health. Learn more about the link between oral health and your immune system and keep your family’s teeth strong and healthy.
The outbreak of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus has got a lot of people thinking about their health, and in particular, their immune system. While there are lots of factors to consider when assessing and caring for your overall health, one important one that is commonly overlooked is the mouth. Oral or dental diseases are some of the most commonly diagnosed conditions, while also being some of the most readily preventable. Aside from wreaking havoc on the condition of your teeth and gums, oral diseases and poor dental hygiene can also have an effect on the overall health of your body.
The idea of “healthy living” has become a bit convoluted over the last few decades, with the goal becoming increasingly less attainable according to popular media. While glitzy celebrities on the covers of health magazines may seem like the goal, most of us aren’t working with millions of dollars or a team of dozens to help keep us feeling and looking our best. In truth, the path to health can be far simpler and less expensive, and a super simple place to start is in your mouth. Once you understand the link between the mouth and your immune system and overall health, it is easy to see why practicing good dental hygiene can make a serious difference.
All About the Mouth
The mouth is a super important part of the body. Not only do our mouths help us to communicate, enjoy our favorite foods, and sing our favorite tunes, our mouths can offer us clues to assessing and caring for our overall health. By breathing and eating/drinking, our mouths become our direct link to both our respiratory and digestive systems.
Our bodies are full of bacteria, the majority of which are completely harmless. Though most bacteria are naturally occurring and pose no threat to overall health, some bacteria that enter the body through the mouth have the potential to cause disease. Luckily, practicing good oral health can keep harmful bacteria at bay, and can help to prevent the occurrence of tooth and gum disease, as well as diseases linked to poor oral health.
Health Conditions Linked to Oral Health
The mouth both impacts the overall health of the body and is able to act as an indicator of overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following health conditions can either be impacted by or detected through oral health:
- Alzheimer’s Disease: as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, many patients experience a significant decline in their oral health
- Cardiovascular Disease: inflammation caused by oral bacteria has been linked to stroke, clogged arteries, and other types of cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes: patients with diabetes have a higher incidence of gum disease and infection
- Endocarditis: endocarditis is the infection of the inner lining of the heart. Infectious bacteria entering the body by way of the mouth spread through the bloodstream, eventually finding their way to the heart
- Osteoporosis: osteoporosis, which causes bone weakening, also causes tooth decay and loss
- Pneumonia: oral bacteria can easily be pulled into the lungs, resulting in pneumonia, infection, and other respiratory diseases
What is the Immune System?
As its name suggests, the immune system is what provides the body with its natural immunity. The immune system is present throughout the body in bone marrow, skin, the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and so on. The immune system is able to distinguish between good and bad bacteria, and upon detection of an infectious agent, is able to trigger an immune response.
The immune response is a complex process that involves the combined efforts of numerous cell types to fight off and eliminate foreign/harmful agents present within the body. In healthy individuals, the immune response is often adequate to fight off most standard infectious agents, though it will sometimes still succumb to bacteria, in which case the individual becomes ill, like in the case of flu or infection. In some cases, the immune system can be boosted or given additional support to enhance its immune response, helping to fend off everything from the common cold to certain types of cancers.
Common Risk Factor Approach
Beyond simply keeping your smile pearly white, practicing good oral health can also help you to support your immune system and fight off disease. The Common Risk Factor Approach is a healthcare perspective that focuses on health factors common to a variety of diseases. Essentially, by treating one common risk factor, a variety of chronic health conditions can be improved or prevented. Common risk factors for oral health include:
- Alcohol Consumption: higher alcohol consumption is linked to oral cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, and cardiovascular disease
- Diet: poor diet may cause dental decay, heart disease, and diabetes
- Hygiene: poor oral hygiene can cause the rapid decay of both teeth and gums, and expose the body to harmful infectious bacteria
- Tobacco Use: smoking or chewing tobacco can cause tooth and gum disease, inflammation, oral cancers, respiratory diseases, heart diseases, and more
Caring for Your Oral Health
If keeping your teeth healthy and your smile beautiful wasn’t already enough motivation to care for your oral health, knowing that your mouth impacts your whole body should provide you some additional encouragement. In a time when more people are focusing on their immune health, learning simple yet effective ways to take control of your body and promote its strength and immunity can be incredibly empowering. Luckily, taking control of your oral health is something virtually anyone can do, and the process doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or wasteful.
Brushing your teeth is the baseline for good oral health practices, and if you aren’t already doing so at least twice a day, consider this your official last-reminder to do so. The food you eat, the drinks you drink, and even the air you breathe all result in the buildup of debris and bacteria at the end of the day. Starchy foods, proteins, sugars, and acids cling to the surfaces of your teeth and worm their way in between to the tightest nooks and crannies. Routine brushing not only helps to preserve the health of your teeth, but it also helps to ensure harmful bacteria don’t become a threat to your overall health.
Because toothbrushes should be used for no longer than three months, since they then begin to accumulate bacteria, each of us should be using at least 4 toothbrushes each year. In the US, more than 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are disposed of annually, with billions more finding their way to landfills worldwide.
While brushing can help to eliminate the majority of oral bacteria, plaque and buildup can remain untouched, tightly wedged between your teeth even after the most thorough toothbrush session. To get to those hard to reach places, dental and health professionals suggest the regular use of dental floss. Flossing not only helps to remove hard to reach plaque, but also helps to strengthen and improve the health of your gums.
Unfortunately, conventional nylon dental floss is made from petroleum-derived plastic, meaning it cannot be recycled and will not biodegrade. In a landfill, nylon floss can take centuries to break down, which is far more preferable than the alternative option, in which pieces of floss find their way to oceans, lakes, and rivers where marine animals can easily consume or become entangled in them.
If you want to go the extra mile to support your immune and overall health, consider adding tongue scraping to your daily dental hygiene routine. Tongue scraping helps to remove any additional bacteria that might have accumulated on your tongue, and will do a more thorough job than brushing alone. Tongue scraping also helps to promote better breath by eliminating odor-causing bacteria, helping your breath to stay fresher for longer.
A beautiful smile requires care, planning, and artistry. Here at Peter Abas, DDS, our team will help prevent any early dental problems. Schedule an appointment today at (949) 586-1127 and join us online on Facebook. If your whole family needs to be seen, not a problem — we will schedule your appointments so it is convenient for you with one trip!