Even if you brush your teeth daily, you may still have dangerous bacteria growing inside your mouth. Not only could that lead to periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease that comes with symptoms such as bleeding when you brush and gum pain), but studies also find a link between poor oral hygiene and major health issues.
Here are some ways that missing the mark on oral care could harm your heath. Plus, expert tips on how to keep your mouth healthy.
1 It may hurt your heart
People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease compared to those don’t have periodontitis. Researchers aren’t exactly sure of why this might be, but one theory is that harmful bacteria from your mouth enters your blood stream and attaches to fatty plaques in your heart’s blood vessels, leading to inflammation and upping your risk of clots that can trigger heart attacks.
2 Your memory could suffer
Some research suggests there may be a tie between poor oral health and an increased risk of dementia. One study that followed 118 nuns between the ages of 75 and 98 found that those with the fewest teeth were most likely to suffer dementia. Experts think oral bacteria may spread to the brain through cranial nerves that connect to the jaw or through the bloodstream, and may contribute to the type of plaque that’s been linked to Alzheimer’s.
3 It can hurt blood sugar
People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than those without diabetes. While this may be because diabetics are more susceptible to infections, there’s also been research that finds gum disease could make it harder to control your blood sugar, and that treating it helps improve diabetes symptoms.
4 It may affect breathing
Gum disease may increase your risk of getting respiratory infections, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia, according to the Journal of Periodontology. The infections might be caused when bacteria from the mouth are inhaled into your lungs, possibly causing your airways to become inflamed.
5 It could hurt your fertility
Women of childbearing age with gum disease took an average of just over seven months to become pregnant—two months longer than the average of five months that it took women without gum disease to conceive, discovered researchers in Western Australia. Other research finds that pregnant women with gum disease might have higher odds of miscarriage.
Expert teeth-cleaning tips
How can you tell if you’re hitting the mark when it comes to good oral care? “Generally, your teeth and gums should not bleed, be painful, or feel rough or sharp to your tongue,” says Pam Atherton, RDH, a dental hygienist for Dr. John Carlile, DDS in Skaneateles, NY. “Your breath should be fresh for at least a couple of hours after brushing in the morning and after having eaten breakfast.” One of the easiest ways to prevent gum disease is to clean your teeth properly, so try these tricks for a healthier mouth.
- Rinse your mouth.If you use mouthwash twice a day, you’ll slash your risk of gum disease by 60%, says Marjorie Jeffcoat, DMD, Professor of Periodontology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in Philadelphia. Ideally you should aim to rinse for about 30 seconds with a mouthwash that has microbial protection to fight plaque and gingivitis, such as Listerine.
- Floss first.You should floss before you brush your teeth, rather than after, says Jeffcoat. “That way you’ll be able to brush away any food that was stuck between your teeth to prevent bacteria from growing.” If you find dental floss hard to hold onto, Atherton suggests trying floss picks, such as Plackers dental flossers, instead.
- Get the right toothbrush.Soft or extra soft bristles are best. “Gum tissue can’t make a callous; therefore, when a person uses a medium or hard-bristled toothbrush, it literally scratches the tissue away over time, exposes the root surface underneath and leads to possible bone loss,” says Atherton.
- Brush smart.To really clean your teeth, aim to brush them for a full two minutes. “Make sure you brush both your tongue and cheeks as well as the chewing surfaces to improve the removal of harmful bacteria in the crevices,” says Atherton. To get your kids to brush the full two minutes, sing Happy Birthday To You or the Alphabet Song twice through at a normal speed for each half of your mouth. And be sure to replace your toothbrush about every three months.