The Museum’s Health Sciences Department is partnering with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to publish a monthly series on the Museum blog called “Know Health”. The articles focus on current health topics selected by CU’s medical and graduate students in order to provide both English and Spanish speaking communities with current, accurate information. The posts in the “Know Health” series are edited versions of articles that first appeared in Contrapoder magazine. Thank you to the students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for bringing these stories to life.
(aka Dr. Nicole Garneau, chair and curator, Health Sciences Department)
Guest Author, Merlin Ariefdjohan is a student in the School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
Did you know that oral health may be the key to a healthy body? We often take the health of our mouth for granted. It turns out that a healthy mouth is more than a pretty smile.
Recent studies have suggested that oral health is linked to certain conditions like low birth weight, heart disease, clogged arteries, stroke, and diabetes. How can this be?
Different populations of bacteria live in various parts of the human body. Most of these bacteria are not harmful since our immune system and good hygiene keep them under control. However, a weak immune system coupled with bad hygiene cause high bacterial accumulation, which can lead to inflammation and ultimately disease.
In the mouth, daily brushing and flossing prevent bacteria from overgrowing. In addition, the flow of saliva washes away food debris and neutralizes acids produced by these bacteria preventing further bacterial accumulation. However, bad oral health care and the consumption of certain medications that reduce salivary flow (decongestants, antihistamines, and diuretics) may jeopardize the health of the mouth. Infrequent brushing and flossing fail to remove a significant portion of these bacteria. Having ‘dry mouth’ produces a similar effect. Sugary foods and drinks also encourage bacterial growth. Over time, films of bacteria coat the surfaces of the teeth and wear down the enamel. Without this protective layer, the teeth rot and cavities are formed. Bacteria can also infect the gums. Such infection destroys the gum tissue and loosens teeth causing difficulty in chewing. Tooth decay and gum infection can be very painful. Bacteria may also cover the tongue resulting in bad breath.
Researchers observed that bacteria in the mouth can enter the blood stream through cuts and lesions on the oral lining and get transported to other parts of the body. These bacteria may attach to heart tissue and cause infection. Others may stick on arteries and disrupt blood flow leading to stroke and heart attack. Bacterial infection also leads to a state of inflammation in the body. This can be detrimental in pregnant women causing preterm low birth weight infants and other complications at birth. Further, gum disease appears to be more frequently observed in diabetics. Research hypothesized that diabetes reduces the body’s ability to fight infection and thus increases the risk for bacterial infection in the gums.
Oral health problems are preventable. Simple practices such as brushing teeth at least twice a day especially before sleeping, flossing daily, using mouthwash and fluoridated toothpaste, and limiting the consumption of sugary foods and drinks are sufficient to maintain a healthy mouth, including the teeth and gums. Visiting the dentist once every 6 months is also recommended. Many oral problems do not cause pain until they are in advanced stages. Your dentist can check and address these problems as early as possible.
By taking care of your oral health, you are making an investment in your overall wellbeing. So start now and keep smiling while you are at it!