Illustration by Daria Krikunova
It’s easy to think of oral hygiene as separate from general health. However, our bodies are more of a connected system than we realize. So next time you are tempted to skip on your daily brushing and flossing, consider the following possible effects.
Halitosis (bad breath)
Lack of proper oral hygiene will let the bacteria inside your mouth grow unchecked. These bacteria will begin to feed off any food traces left behind on and between your teeth. After their feast, they will emit hydrogen sulfide and other gassy by-products, which will create bad breath.
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This is an advanced form of gum disease. It happens when bacteria starts to grow in the pockets between the teeth and gums. When this happens, both the bacteria and your body's immune response can damage the fibers anchoring your teeth and even the bone around the tooth sockets. This can loosen the teeth. If this wasn't bad enough in itself, this process often causes bad breath as well (1).
Respiratory tract infections
When there are excessive bacteria around your mouth, they are more likely to travel to and potentially infect other parts of your body. Thanks to their shared section, this could spell trouble for your respiratory system. This could affect your upper respiratory tract (such as your tonsils), or if you have a weakened immune system or pre-existing lung conditions, you may even develop pneumonia (2).
There is a well-documented link between chronic heart conditions (in particular, atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries) and advanced gum disease (3).
Diabetes increases your risk of developing periodontitis – but periodontitis can also make your diabetes harder to manage. Active periodontal disease increases your chances of developing complications from diabetes (4).
Experts are not sure why, but people with chronic periodontitis are up to 7 times more likely to have problems getting or maintaining an erection. This may be related to atherosclerosis: if your blood vessels are thickened or rigid, they may not let blood flow properly into your genital area (5).
Marginal periodontitis and dental cavities are a major risk factor during pregnancy. Women with chronic periodontitis have a much higher likelihood to have premature births or to have babies with low birth weight (6).
A massive study of over 6,000 people found that people who died from Alzheimer’s were more likely to have large amounts of specific antibodies related to gum disease (7). This means that they probably have had a lot of oral bacteria throughout their lives. Do keep in mind that the factors behind Alzheimer’s disease are complex. The causes are often known as a “cascade of events,” so it’s hard to pinpoint a single cause.
Some of the effects in this list are immediate, while others silently spend years in the making. Take control of your oral health today to reap the long term rewards!
1. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. (2019). Periodontal disease. Available online at https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease/more-info#causes
2. Bansal, M., Khatri, M., & Taneja, V. (2013). Potential role of periodontal infection in respiratory diseases - a review. Journal of medicine and life, 6(3), 244–248. Available online at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24155782/
3. Haynes W, Stanford C (2003). Periodontal disease and atherosclerosis: From dental to arterial plaque. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2003; 23:1309–1311. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1161/01.ATV.0000087144.24654.71
4. Preshaw, P., Bissett, S. Periodontitis and diabetes. Br Dent J 227, 577–584 (2019). Available online at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41415-019-0794-5
5. Kellesarian, S. V., Kellesarian, T. V., Ros Malignaggi, V., Al-Askar, M., Ghanem, A., Malmstrom, H., & Javed, F. (2018). Association Between Periodontal Disease and Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review. American journal of men's health, 12(2), 338–346. Available online at: https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988316639050