Although we’re surrounded by various temptations, many Americans are doing their part to embrace a healthier lifestyle. Since health problems associated with obesity are the second leading cause of preventable death, getting down to a healthy weight often seems like the main solution. But even if you’re within the healthy weight range for your height and gender, you might still have certain issues to contend with — especially if you fail to take care of your teeth.
You might not realize it, but the neglect of your brushing and flossing will impact more than your smile. In fact, research shows that oral health is an accurate indicator of overall well-being — and that ignoring proper care can have huge effects on your health and longevity.
Certainly a lack of proper dental care can have impacts on your mouth itself. Roughly 69% of Americans aged 35 to 44 have at least one missing tooth, while only one-fourth of American seniors over the age of 74 have all of their natural teeth. But the risks of poor oral hygiene extend beyond your pearly whites. We now know that there are a number of oral health conditions that can increase your risk of developing other diseases. For instance, periodontitis has been linked to premature births, while osteoporosis may be related to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. When oral bacteria cause inflammation and infections, patients may also be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease or endocarditis.
In other words, you could actually be risking your heart health when you skip dentist visits and stop taking care of your teeth. Periodontal disease has been found to increase your chance of developing heart disease by as much as 20%, in some cases. And since more than 80% of Americans have some form of gum disease (of which periodontal disease is only one), it’s likely we’re increasing our likelihood of suffering a heart attack without even realizing it. Although proper oral care hasn’t necessarily been proven to reduce heart disease risk, the threat of needing cardiac catheterization (which is often used in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease) or potentially suffering a serious or fatal attack may be enough for more people to brush and floss more frequently.
Your heart isn’t the only vital organ at risk here, either. One study found that poor oral health showed a connection to cognitive decline in older Chinese populations, while other experts maintain that emotional stress can have an impact on dental care — which can then, in turn, may lead to cognitive disorder development. Although these results are preliminary, anyone with a family history of Alzheimer’s or other dementia diseases may be wise to pay attention and start making dental care a priority.
Ultimately, oral care is an excellent indicator of overall health — in more ways than one. And while skipping one tooth-brushing session may not shorten your life, making a habit of neglecting proper dental care could very well be a lot riskier than most people realize.