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Healthy Teeth, Healthy Life

Did you know that how you care for your teeth can affect your general health?
By Karen Kwan

A bright winning smile is always desirable, but there’s more to think about than just appearance when it comes to our pearly whites. How well you take care of your oral health can impact your overall health. And here’s the thing: we are all susceptible to less-than-healthy gums every day. “For the most part, every human being has some level of gingivitis, whether it’s slight to moderate up to severe, because we all have bacteria in our mouth, and the food we eat mixes with the saliva in our mouth [which can lead to plaque],” says Clayton De Corte, a registered dental hygienist based in Toronto.


So the next time you feel too tired to brush and floss before bed, or are tempted to skip your dentist appointment? Read on to learn about the health concerns that can result from poor oral health: it might just give you the motivation you need to make your teeth a priority.


Increased cardiovascular risk
Gingivitis, or inflamed gums, has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. That increased risk is believed to be tied to the inflammation in the rest of the body caused by gum disease. A study published in the British Dental Journal in 2011 found that inflamed gums not only worsen heart disease, but also make diabetes symptoms more severe and increase deaths from oral cancer.


Lung infections
The higher bacterial load you have in your mouth when you have severe gum disease is tied to a greater chance that you’ll inhale germs that will give you pneumonia. And if you already suffer from a lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, your symptoms will worsen if you don’t tend to your teeth well and develop gum disease as a result.


Increased diabetes risk
People with diabetes run a greater risk of tooth decay and periodontal disease because there is a higher level of bacteria in their saliva when the diabetes is not under control. But some research also shows that severe gum disease can actually contribute to diabetes complications because it can increase blood sugar.


Headaches and earaches
Grinding your teeth (something many of us are prone to do when stressed) can not only wear down your teeth and lead to tooth sensitivity, but it can lead to tightness in your jaw joint, and also headaches and earaches.


Pregnancy health concerns
Gum disease has been shown to be related to developing gestational diabetes, delivering pre-term and having a low-birthweight baby. The latter two can lead to complications for the baby, including developmental issues and behavioural problems. This makes it critical to be diligent about your oral health and dentist visits while pregnant.


Ultimately, taking good care of your teeth means going back to the basics, says De Corte. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime. If you like, mouth rinses can be used for social engagements, but he’s not a fan of them for regular use. “A rinse does no better than a toothbrush and floss, which can get to spots below the gum line,” he says. De Corte, who has close to 20 years of experience in dental care and owns the clinic NOWsmile in Toronto, is a fan of electric toothbrushes. “We are a lazy and rushed society,” he says, “and an electric toothbrush can do some of the work for us.”


KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.

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