Several of our Hickory area patients asked Dr. Powell, “How do bacteria in your mouth impact your health in other ways?” We all learned about the bacteria under our nails and on our skin in high school. That lesson scared us into learning to wash our hands after we use the restroom and again before we cook or eat. But, like your hands, your mouth also contains a massive amount of bacteria with up to over 700 strains! What is the big deal about bacteria in your mouth and what does it say about your overall health?
- Harmful Effects of Bacteria In Your Mouth
Even a healthy mouth with excellent daily oral care and a non-starchy diet can contain at least 30 strains of bacteria. Most of the bacteria strains are not harmful or can be managed with proper brushing and flossing habits as well as a diet filled with a variety of clean non-sugary foods. Why non-sugary and non-starchy foods? These are not just yummy foods for your taste buds; they are also what the bacteria eat to produce the acid that harms your enamel or inflames your gum line and eventually leads to tooth decay or tooth loss…ouch!
- Your Mouth Bacteria Beyond Your Mouth
In addition to tooth decay and inflamed gums, another problem with all this bacteria in your mouth is some of it can get into your bloodstream and adhere to weakened areas of your heart creating an infection in the inner lining called Endocarditis. Moreover, there are studies that connect an unhealthy overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the mouth with heart disease, strokes and clogged arteries. Finally, pregnant women with severe gum disease called Periodontitis run a higher risk of going into labor prematurely or having a baby with a low birth weight.
- Other Diseases That Affect Your Oral Health
There are many diseases in the other areas of the body that can have an impact on your oral health as well. Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis, eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and head and neck cancers have all been linked to producing gum inflammation, sores, and other oral health concerns. The medications taken for these and other diseases can also contribute to an unhealthy mouth.
- What Can I Do To Improve My Oral Health?
The great news is there are simple steps that can make a major difference in your oral health. Daily brushing should last two minutes twice per day with a soft-bristled brush in small circular motions along the gum line. Brushing should also include the tongue and tiny crevices of the molars. Take special care in those hard-to-reach spots, brushing can be your first defense against the spread of harmful bacteria.
Follow the brushing with flossing up and down the side of each tooth making sure to bring the floss below the gum line against the tooth until you can go no further, not just until the teeth touch. It is critical to floss between those tight contacts and under the gum line where food often gets trapped. Be careful not to press directly down between the touching teeth, but rather to saw back and forth at an angle to allow a breach in between the teeth without too much force that may harm the gum line.
- Small Dietary Changes
Bacteria love starches and sugars! Who can blame them? For many of us, it might be hard to remove such foods from your diet. To balance things out, try eating your carbohydrates and sweets together with other foods while drinking lots of water. Be sure to use this method with snacks too, and avoid hard candies that will stick easier to your teeth. Ask your primary doctor for more advice on the best foods for your health needs.
- Saliva Rocks!
Have you noticed how your breath smells bad when your mouth is dry? Saliva is your body’s own weapon against bad bacteria in the mouth. Like water, your saliva aids in decreasing the risk of tooth decay. Help your saliva do its job to dilute the sugars and starches by drinking lots of water and avoiding too much caffeine or salty foods. Talk to your dentist about other tricks to increasing the production of your saliva at your next cleaning appointment.
- Schedule Dental Cleanings At Least Twice Per Year
Your hygienist and your dentist are powerful tools in your fight against the spread of harmful bacteria. With regular cleaning, the hygienist will be able to reach those trouble spots even the best brushing and flossing routines may have missed. The dentist will be checking for signs of decay and inflammation before it becomes a serious condition as well as looking for signs of the fore-mentioned diseases at your check-up. Moreover, if you have deep pockets, your dentist may suggest more frequent professional cleanings and check-ups to ensure your gums and teeth are free of harmful bacteria. Preventing disease and decay with good eating and oral care habits combined with your regular dental cleanings not only results in a confident smile, but also decreases the risk for more expensive dental bills down the road. Therefore, it is important to keep your cleaning appointments throughout the year as recommended by your dentist for your individual oral health needs.
Bacteria and other germs are the cause of many diseases. The wonderful news is together with your dentist, good oral hygiene habits, and nutritious dietary changes, you can fight back against harmful bacteria and other germs. Whether you are already living with some of the damaging effects of oral bacteria or you are looking for ways to prevent tooth decay and gum disease from starting, these tips should keep your mouth ready for your close up!