How do you look after the health of your heart? An active lifestyle? Balanced diet? Relaxation? What about a thorough teeth clean?
Current research shows that oral hygiene can have a dramatic impact on general health and, if neglected, can lead to other serious problems such as gum disease, diabetes and heart disease.
“If you have poor oral hygiene, you will have more harmful bacteria in your mouth than someone with better oral hygiene. This bacteria has the potential to enter the bloodstream through cuts or abrasions,” explains Dr Ben Atkins, dental practitioner and clinical director of Revive Dental Care, Manchester. “For example, the harmful bacteria that you can find within a dental abscess can enter your bloodstream and subsequently your heart and other areas of your body. There is a definite link between problems in the mouth, such as abscesses and gum disease, and heart disease.”
Approximately 80-90 per cent of us have some form of gingivitis in our mouths, which is often caused by missing key areas when brushing. Over time, this kind of inflammation of the gingiva (or gums) can lead to periodontal disease and tooth loss. Other factors, such as smoking and diabetes, can weaken the immune system further, making it harder for the body to fight back against mouth bacteria.
“I think of the mouth as the gateway to the body, and it and the gums are defended – like any other area of the body – by your blood cells and wider immune system,” says Dr Atkins. “The job of our white blood cells is to protect our bodies from infection and anything that damages this, like smoking or diabetes, dramatically impacts how our body protects itself from things such as bacteria in the mouth. If you already live with a condition such as diabetes, you need to pay close attention to your oral hygiene and be a lot more careful with brushing.”
So what exactly is the correct way to brush the teeth? “I always recommend to my patients holding an electric toothbrush against each tooth at a slight angle towards the gum line,” says Dr Atkins. “A lot of people tend to use an electric toothbrush in the same way as a manual toothbrush, which is wrong, and it’s important to let the toothbrush do the brushing for you. Once my patients have adopted this technique they often come back to me and say: ‘Wow, my teeth feel spotless’. You often see a huge improvement in patients’ mouths when they start brushing the correct way.”