Is Your Mouth a Heartbreaker? 5 Surprising Health Risks Related to Oral Hygiene

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We all know that flossing and regular brushing are necessary to prevent gum disease, but there are many other seemingly unrelated benefits to taking great care of our teeth.

For example, researchers have discovered that periodontitis can lead to inflammation-related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, decreased memory and other health issues. This means that taking great care of our teeth is more important than merely making sure we have a beautiful smile: it might even save our lives.

Below are 5 surprising ways poor oral hygiene can lead to more than just mouth problems:


1. Harmful for the Heart—

Periodontal (gum) disease generally occurs from tartar and plaque buildup, but genetic factors and tobacco use may also play a role, creating infection in the affected areas of the mouth that can lead to tissue and bone loss.

Studies have implicated this mouth inflammation might trigger an inflammatory response in other parts of the body, such as the cardiovascular system. Other studies have shown the increased cardiovascular disease risk may happen because of the excessive bacteria coming from the infected parts of the mouth.

Regardless of the exact cause, findings have proven that gum disease might trigger a heart attack or stroke for some, making it especially important for those already at risk for cardiovascular issues to practice thorough oral hygiene.


2. The Oral Health/Diabetes Connection—

Chronically high blood sugar levels can eventually affect the body’s ability to battle infection, making it harder for gums to fight off periodontitis-causing bacteria.

Having gum disease can also make it harder to maintain steady blood sugar levels… creating a vicious cycle of diabetes making periodontal issues worse, and vice versa.

To avoid this unfortunate dance between diseases, hyperglycemic people should establish a consistent brushing and flossing routine, and have twice-yearly check-ups to keep a close watch on gum tissue.


3. Greater Risk of Pancreatic and Kidney Disease—

When researchers at Harvard followed 52,000 men for 16 years, they found that participants with periodontal disease had a 65% higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those with healthy gum tissue.

This number was already a shocking discovery, but when men experienced tooth loss because of gum disease, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer became even greater.

Another study established that people who’d lost their teeth were more likely to have chronic kidney disease than those with their natural teeth. Blood pressure issues caused by the chronic kidney disease also affected overall bone health and led to heart disease. (Source: Case Western Reserve University.)


4. Higher Percentages of Head and Neck Cancers—

Japanese researchers studied people with poor oral hygiene and increased bacterial infections/inflammation/periodontal disease, and found highly increased risks of head and neck cancers in participants.

People who’d lost teeth were 136% more at risk for esophageal cancer, 68% more likely to experience head or neck area cancers, and had a 54% increase in risk for lung cancer. (Source: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, American Association for Cancer Research.)

HPV risk is also higher in those with gum inflammation, with about 60% of oral cancers linked to the human papilloma virus.

These findings were shocking, to say the least, proving that it is vitally necessary for cancer prevention to take the best care of teeth possible.


5. Gum Disease Can Cause Respiratory Problems—

It makes sense that what’s happening inside the mouth can travel down the throat, but the bacteria from periodontal disease can even make it all the way into the lungs, leading to respiratory issues such as pneumonia.

Those most at risk are the elderly, smokers, those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and people who are already immunosuppressed, such as HIV and cancer patients. (Source: American Academy of Periodontology.)


We now know the benefits of a beautiful smile extend well beyond the teeth, yet despite these scary additional health risks, 80% of the U.S. population has some form of gum disease. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

For the reasons above and more, having good oral hygiene is a crucial part of overall wellness, and a healthy mouth starts with a smart habits like brushing and flossing regularly. Be sure to see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and wellness exam, brush and floss every day, and take great care of your teeth and gums so they can help you stay happy and healthy, from head to toe.