Oral care has been credited as the most overlooked healthcare procedures in the world. One bypasses brushing thoroughly and regularly, forgoes flossing and dodges the dentist till there is an obvious inevitable problem. However, while oral disease begins quietly at the gumline, it can sneakily make its way to the heart, brain, kidneys, lungs and even to your unborn child. Increasing evidence suggests that the bacteria in our mouth is directly linked to a number of major systems in our body via the bloodstream. Long term inattention to maintaining good oral health, can lead to a bevy of serious diseases or worsen a pre-exiting condition. Here’s how:
A healthy set of teeth, or “dentition” as we like to call in fancier terms, can be the harbinger of not just great physical health, but of mental wellness too. Here’s how:
Unlike caries which is restricted to the hard tissues of the tooth ,ie, enamel and dentin, an abscess is an infection of the gums surrounding the roots of the teeth. It is a deep seated infection which can be a direct consequence of long term decay of the tooth. The bacteria travel through the bloodstream in the pulp and proliferate in the bones of the jaw. This will lead to unrelenting pain, to say the least.
The pain of an abscess isn’t going to disappear without professional dental intervention at the earliest. This is one time, you have to bite the bullet and take that trip to your nearest dentist. If delayed it can lead to a series of serious events which can cause life long debilitation.
Infection of the jaw bone: Our jaw bones, especially that of the upper jaw is not made to tolerate long term infection. It is quite porous, giving bacteria a number of paths of least resistance. Once it spreads to these bones, conservative treatments like root canal treatment will not work anymore. Extraction of the tooth becomes mandatory, followed by removal of part of the bone of the whole bone in some cases.
Infection of the sinuses and soft tissues: The maxillary or the upper sinus is in close proximity to the roots of our upper back teeth. Infection in these can directly spread to the sinus, causing a very painful case of purulent, or pus filled sinusitis. It can also spread to the overlying skin, ie, the cheeks, sides of the nose, neck etc in a condition called cellulitis. Just a quick google image search is going to show you why you’d want to avoid this one! Apart from the obvious pain and ugliness.
Airway Blockage: If the cellulitis becomes worse, it can also obstruct your airway, making something as simple as breathing extremely painful and laborious.
Septicemia: Oral bacteria love to joy ride in our blood stream. It takes them to place they have never been before, literally! When an abscess ruptures its contents can spill into the blood stream and begin to circulate into the body. This is life threatening condition with only cure being long term hospitalization and hard hitting intravenous antibiotics.
Brain abscess: In one of the many ways that has already been described, the bacteria can reach our brain. The blood brain barrier makes treatment dangerous and refractory. Long term hospitalization and drugs are the only hope.
According to several studies, individuals with severe gum disease are at a higher risk for developing heart disease. Oral bacteria contain proteins that blood clot to develop along the length of the arteries, effectively narrowing them. Patients with pre-existing heart conditions like prosthetic heart valve, cardiac valve disease, cardiac transplant nad congenital heart disease are vulnerable to an extremely dangerous condition known as infective endocarditis. The bacteria in untreated plaque proceed to cause gingivitis or swollen gums. Our gums in turn begin bleeding while brushing, flossing or sometimes even eating. The bacteria find an ingress into our blood stream and travel to other parts of the body. In case of the heart, the bacteria colonize the inner lining of the heart and the valves, creating pockets of growth. Oral bacteria can also clog the arteries that supply the brain, increasing the risk of stroke.
Diabetes and Oral health is a two way street. Individuals with poor oral health have been shown to be more susceptible to diabetes while diabetes can be the cause of loosening of teeth, gum disease and much more. Patients with diabetes also have a higher risk of infection and lower rate of healing. Therefore periodic oral check ups are mandatory to prevent worsening of the situation.