Bleeding, inflamed gums, painful cavities, bad breath—poor oral health is a bummer, and not just because it makes you significantly less kissable.
What’s going on in your mouth can also affect other parts of your body, sometimes in major ways.
The line of thinking? The bacteria in your mouth can spread throughout the rest of your body, says Beverly Hills periodontist Sanda Moldovan, D.D.S. That can possibly lead to a whole bunch of not-so-great consequences.
But where does that bacteria go, and what havoc does it wreak? Here’s a look at how your poor oral health can affect nearly every part of your body.
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1. POOR ORAL HEALTH RAISES YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE AND STROKE
Several studies have shown a link between gum disease—known as periodontitis—and heart disease, as well as increased risk for stroke, according to Mazen Natour, D.M.D., Manhattan-based prosthodontist.
That’s because the same bacteria causing periodontitis symptoms like inflammation, bleeding, and bone loss around teeth can travel through the bloodstream to the arteries, Dr. Natour says.
“Bacteria can latch onto the walls of the arteries that are feeding the heart, and cause small blood clots,” he says. “By doing so, the risk increases of restricted blood flow to the heart.”
The possible effect? A clot blocking blood flow to the heart can mean a heart attack (Here are 6 signs you're on your way to a heart attack). It’s also possible that clots there can mess with blood flow to the brain, potentially leading to stroke, too.
2. POOR ORAL HEALTH RAISES YOUR RISK OF CANCER
Just as the bacteria makes your gums puffy, it can cause similar reactions to other tissues in your body. The National Institutes of Health notes that inflammation has long been associated with the development of cancer, and as tumors grow, more tissue gets damaged and inflamed.
The inflammation may be what’s responsible to the link between periodontal disease and certain cancers, too, says Dr. Moldovan. In fact, a new study published in Cancer Research found that some of the same types of bacteria that trigger periodontal disease may also be linked to a higher risk of esophageal cancer.
Plus, a 2016 study in the Annals of Oncology found that men with periodontitis were 13 percent more likely to develop cancer overall—and those with advanced form of the gum disease were 45 percent more likely to get diagnosed. Smoking-related cancers, like lung, bladder, esophageal, kidney, stomach, and liver, seemed most affected.
3. POOR ORAL HEALTH RAISES YOUR RISK OF ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION
Talk about a good reason to start flossing: Research has suggested there’s a connection between systemic inflammation—yep, the kind that could be caused by that traveling bacteria in your mouth—and increased risk of developing impotence.
In fact, in preliminary research from Taiwan, men with erectile dysfunction were 79 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with chronic periodontal disease than guys without ED.
Prolonged, chronic inflammation can damage blood vessels, including the ones leading to your junk, as we’ve reported before.
4. POOR ORAL HEALTH RAISES YOUR RISK OF PROSTATE PROBLEMS
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is an enzyme created in the prostate that is normally secreted in small amounts. But when the prostate becomes inflamed or infected, PSA levels increase, notes the American Academy of Periodontology.
The organization states that men with indicators of periodontal disease tend to have higher levels of PSA, as well as more inflammation of the prostate. That’s a problem, it can lead to a condition known as prostatitis, which affects men of all ages, according to Harvard Medical School. The issue can lead to painful irritation, difficult ejaculation, pain in the perineum, and urination urgency.
5. HOW TO FIX YOUR POOR ORAL HEALTH
According to the AAP, periodontal disease is higher in men—56 percent, compared to 38 percent in women—possibly because they are less likely to go to the dentist, where they can take care of issues like dental plaque, tartar, and bleeding earlier.
But with good oral health, your risk of these bacteria-driven issues is much lower, Dr. Natour says. If you don’t have any gum disease or dental problems, you should see your dentist for cleanings and checkups every six months, he suggests.
If you already have some periodontitis—say, you have signs of it, like you spit blood when you brush or floss, or your gums feel inflamed—or you’re more prone to cavities, you’re likely to need a dental visit about every four months.
You’ve heard this one before, too, but it’s worth repeating: Floss daily. We know, no one likes it, but it makes a huge difference, says Dr. Moldovan.
“Recently, I heard a statistic that the average length of floss used per year, per person, is 18 inches,” she adds. “That’s how much you should use in two days.”
Other handy strategies are reducing sugar consumption—Dr. Moldovan says sugar can stick on teeth and become a perfect harbor for bacteria, which can contribute to plaque—as well as swishing your mouth with water after meals and snacks.
Chew gum or mints with artificial sweetener xylitol as well, she advises, since that can help stimulate saliva, which clears bacteria from your mouth more efficiently.
BY ELIZABETH MILLARD