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By Angela Pirisi
OVER THE PAST decade, research has been
probing the links between oral and physical
health. And while more evidence is needed,
there’s enough to suggest that the state of
your mouth can affect your overall health.
The most noted health links are between
gum disease and heart disease, stroke and diabetes, as well as low-weight babies and pre-term births. Given the diabetes epidemic, oral
health is even more significant as a strategy
for disease prevention and management.
Several studies have shown that the more
advanced the gum disease, the higher the risk
of these conditions. According to one theory,
signs of gum disease may simply be red flags
for disease development elsewhere in the body.
Another theory suggests that oral bacteria can
slip past the gum line and enter the bloodstream. However, more studies are needed to
pinpoint gum disease as the cause.
“The thought is that bacteria that cause
gum disease are also found in the body, and
can cause inflammation and infection in the
same way,” says Dr. Darryl Smith, president of
the Canadian Dental Association, who practices dentistry in Valleyview, Alberta. “We
once thought of the mouth as something
separate from the rest of the body, but now we
know that diseases that affect the mouth can
also affect other parts.”
Just as bacteria and plaque (the result of
built-up, hardened bacteria and deposits) can
cause inflammation and infection in the gums
and teeth, they can wreak havoc wherever
they travel within the body. The clincher is
that the mouth is the “gatekeeper” for bacteria
and can either keep them out or let them in,
past the gum line and into the bloodstream.
Here’s what research findings have
reported so far about gum disease:
Brush away illness
Take care of teeth to promote good health
bacteria at bay
■ It seems to worsen blood sugar control
in diabetics; however, good oral care improves
blood sugar control.
■ It increases the risk of cardiovascular
disease, especially stroke, by 1.04- to 2.8-fold.
■ It increases the risk of having a pre-term birth by 4 to 7. 9 times.
“The new findings basically echo what we
already know as common sense, such as making healthy choices to prevent or manage diabetes and heart disease, and in pregnancy,”
The whole idea behind good oral hygiene
is not to let bacteria get a foothold. What’s the
harm in skipping that brushing tonight?
Bacteria start to build up on teeth within 20
minutes of eating, and it takes oral plaque
only 24 to 36 hours to harden into tartar. It’s
like that phrase “Build it and they will
come”—once tartar clings to the gum line,
bacteria start invading and multiplying.
OK, YOU KNOW you should
visit your dentist every six
months, brush your teeth
twice a day and floss once
daily. Here are a few more
things you need to know.
■ Limit between-meal
snacking, especially sugar-or acid-based foods. Your
teeth are exposed to bacte-ria-causing substances each
time you eat.
■ When you brush,
brush for at least two minutes at a time, so hum your
■ Floss before you
brush. It helps to clear out
excess food deposits that
your brush can’t reach
easily. Not flossing means
you’re missing one-third
of your tooth surface.
■ Quit smoking. Even
secondhand smoke exposure
increases the chances of
■ Drink water between
brushings. It beats sweet
beverages. Rinse your mouth
with water following any
meal or snack to clean away
sugar and acid, which lay
out a welcome mat for
■ Get your fluoride fill.
Use a toothpaste containing
fluoride and drink water that
is fluoridated. Tap water
wins out over bottled water
■ Avoid late-night
snacking. Don’t indulge in
snacks or beverages that
contain sugar within one to
two hours of bed unless you
rinse and brush your teeth
The good news is that there are new and
improved ways to guard your teeth and gums.
Oral care has come a long way, from chewing
on a twig to clean one’s teeth in 3500 B.C. to
state-of-the-art power brushes and multitask-ing toothpastes that clean, whiten, disinfect
and protect, and more. But advances in oral
care lately have been going beyond brightening teeth and freshening breath, with a
number of oral-care innovations, such as
toothpaste with 12-hour antibacterial protection, oral rinses, electric flossers and toothbrushes with timers to step up the fight
against gum disease and tooth loss by making
it easier to clean teeth and gums better.
Face it: Your smile may make a first
impression, but how well you look after your
mouth may leave a lasting impression on your
whole health. “Oral health is just part of
healthy lifestyle choices we know we should
make and healthy habits we know we should
be practicing, such as exercise, nutrition and
hand washing,” says Smith.
So, will there come a day when we tell our
kids, “Brush your teeth—it’s good for your
heart”? It’s not that clear-cut yet, but it’s probably safe to say, “Brush your teeth—it’s good
for your health.” C
Angela Pirisi is a Hamilton, Ontario–based
freelance writer who covers health, fitness and
nutrition. Her work appears frequently in
The Costco Connection.
The Costco Connection
Costco warehouses carry a variety of
products to promote oral health, including
toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss and