How well you care for your teeth and gums does have huge effect on your overall health. Not attending to your oral health may lead to more than just sore teeth and bad breath — it can cause all sorts of health problems, including some nasty diseases like oral cancer. Researchers have found connections between gum problems and heart disease, bacterial pneumonia, stroke, and even problem with pregnancies.
“You cannot be healthy with an unhealthy mouth any more than one can be healthy with an infected foot,” says Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a former clinical instructor at the Boston University Dental School.
How Diet and Lifestyle Relates to Oral Health
Many dietary habits and lifestyle factors can affect oral health, including:
- Sugar consumption. “Having too much sugar in your diet will contribute to tooth decay and gum problems, because the bacteria in the mouth thrive in this environment,” producing tooth and gum-destroying enzymes and acids, says Dr. Price, who retired after 35 years as a dentist in Newton, Mass.
- Smoking. Dental care professionals have known that smoking cigarettes and cigars and using tobacco products can cause periodontal disease (gum disease), tooth decay, and oral cancer. Cigars can also cause periodontal disease and throat, or pharyngeal, cancer. “The smoke from tobacco has a toxic effect on gum tissue, and can interfere with blood flow,” Price explains. “Smoking also stains the heck out of teeth, is a direct cause of oral cancer, and can contribute to bad breath.”
- Drinking alcohol. “Drinking can contribute to oral problems indirectly by resulting in a dehydrated mouth, which can allow bacteria to run rampant.
- Changes in weight. For those who wear dentures, changes in body weight tend to affect the way dentures fit, Price says. “Just as weight gain or loss affects the way clothes fit, that gain or loss also affects the gum pads on which dentures rest,” he says
- Medication. “Certain medications, like some antibiotics, can cause internal staining of teeth, such as tetracycline staining, depending on the age they were taken at,” says Price. Also, “there are 200 to 400 medications, prescribed or over-the-counter, that have the side effect of drying up saliva. Having a dry mouth is prone to gum disease and tooth decay, as well as bad breath.”
Healthy Mouth and Body
To maintain your oral health — and overall good health — Price says you should see your dentist regularly to head off any problems early. You should also practice good oral hygiene at home by brushing and flossing your teeth daily in order to prevent plaque from accumulating and causing problems.