Australians are still not getting the message. But it’s time to get serious about our dental health…
Taking care of your teeth isn’t just about avoiding bad breath. Running to the dentist for a cheap filling won’t always work. And “just pulling out” any dodgy teeth is no sensible solution. So if you think you can worry about your teeth later or that dental disease is someone else’s problem, think again.
Dental decay and periodontal disease are a major health problem in Australia today. They are the second most costly diet-related disease in the country and have a financial impact comparable with diabetes and heart disease. Yet, the problem is still ignored.
Luckily, the government is getting busy, preparing to roll out national health strategies so that Australians will take this issue seriously. But until then, let’s be clear:
You must protect your natural teeth from decay and periodontal disease. Especially if you don’t want to have your life blighted by poor dental health, tooth loss, social and economic strain and possibly poor overall health.
Today, evidence clearly shows that poor dental health does not just cause diseases of the mouth, but is linked to overall general health, including stroke, heart disease, hypertension, certain cancers and more. But first, let’s take a look at how problems develop in your mouth.
Understanding tooth decay and gum disease
The two main detrimental conditions that affect our teeth are:
- Dental decay (caries) – the cause of 70% of tooth loss
- Periodontal disease, a.k.a. gum disease – the cause of 20% of tooth loss
Our mouths are full of bacteria. And this bacteria thrives on any sugary food it can find, turning it into acid. After a while, the acid erodes – or decays the tooth – so you have tooth decay, which leads to a cavity.
This bacteria also form with mucus and other particles to make a sticky, clear film called plaque. You can remove plaque by brushing your teeth, but if you forget, this plaque will harden and form ‘tartar’ that you can’t brush off.
You’ll need a professional scale and clean to remove tartar.
Untreated decay and plaque becomes more damaging over time and can become so advanced the tooth needs to be extracted. And the bacteria that’s been sitting on your gums will cause inflammation, called gingivitis. Gingivitis occurs when your gums become inflamed and red and bleed easily. If you treat gingivitis quickly, you can get on top of it, but if it gets worse, it can develop into periodontitis.
Periodontitis means “inflamation around the tooth”. The gums pull away from the teeth and form little pockets that become infected. As your body fights the bacteria, the infection spreads and grows below the gum line, releasing bacterial toxins. A combination of your body’s natural immune response and these toxins slowly start to break down the binding connective tissue that holds your teeth together. Consequently, the gums, bones and tissues that support your teeth are all destroyed. Your teeth become loose and either fall out or have to be removed.
Living with tooth loss is not pleasant and can often be filled with problems – problems with our health, finances and work/social life. But that’s not all. It gets worse.
Evidence-based links between oral health & general health
The World Health Organisation announced that there was an evidence-based link between oral health and general health in 2003. Since then, there’s been mounting evidence strengthening the case, which impacts four ways:
1. Poor oral health causes disability
2. Poor oral health is significantly associated with major chronic diseases
3. Oral health issues and major diseases share common risk factors
4. General health problems may cause or worsen oral health problems
1. Poor oral health & disability
If you develop poor oral health, your daily life is likely to be affected in myriad ways.
The ability to eat well (obtaining adequate nutrition), eat in public, and socialise may all become a problem. There may be chronic pain and suffering that could affect overall well-being, employment, sleep and relationships.
According to ‘Australia’s Healthy Mouth, Healthy Lives’ report, oral diseases now ranks seventh in the list of Australian total disability-adjusted life years.
2. Poor oral health significantly associated with major chronic diseases
The list of links between oral health and major chronic diseases is staggering – and keeps growing.
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory diseases
- Kidney disease
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Stomach ulcers
- Oral cancers
- Alzheimer’s disease
3. Your oral health concerns & major diseases share common risk factors
Your oral and general health share possible causes and risk behaviours. Poor oral health and poor general health are likely to occur together – and have an impact on each other. For example, cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol has been known to be linked with gum disease, oral cancer and tooth loss.
4. Your general health problem may worsen or cause your dental health problems
Some general health problems may affect your oral health. For example, medications to treat thinning bones may affect your jaw and teeth, chemotherapy may affect your teeth, and anxiety problems can impair your teeth, causing cracks, wear and tear, jaw disorders and headaches.
With the abundant evidence showing the negative impacts of poor dental hygiene on your teeth, overall health and lifestyle, it’s time to take this issue seriously. This doesn’t mean you have to panic, but you must take care of your teeth by regularly cleaning and flossing and adhering to regular dental check-ups.
And if you have children, please, educate them on the importance of dental hygiene. We only have one set of natural teeth; let’s hang onto them for as long as we can.