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March 20th is World Oral Health Day, a day that's important for a number of reasons. You may not think much about the health of your mouth - why would you? - but it turns out that your oral hygiene can play a big part in the standard of your general health. A recent study even found that people with serious gum disease were 40% more likely to have a chronic condition than people without gum disease. So what can we do to make sure we don't fall foul of poor oral health?
It's almost certainly not something the average person would consider that much and the idea that your teeth could affect another part of your body seems strange - but what you have to remember is that the mouth is the gateway to the body. If bacteria builds up on your teeth then you can become prone to infection; your immune system kicks in and the gums become inflamed until the immune system is able to bring the infection under control. Over time, inflammation and the chemicals that it releases eat away at the gums and bone structure that hold the teeth in place and, if enough time passes, the inflammation can lead to severe gum disease known as periodontitis.
Periodontitis is a common oral condition that is associated with problems in the rest of the body. Its relationship with diabetes has been made clear and the risks of inflammation preventing the effectiveness of insulin have been well documented; the two conditions aggravate each other, with high blood pressure providing fuel for a condition like periodontitis to grow, which in turn can lead to a higher risk of rising blood pressure. Additionally, though the reasons are not yet fully understood, it's clear that gum disease and heart disease can go hand in hand with up to 91% of heart disease patients having periodontitis.
These two conditions have several causes in common with smoking, bad diet and excess weight factoring in each. The theory is that inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation in the blood vessels, and this can raise the risk of heart attack. Inflamed blood vessels allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure. There's also a risk that fatty plaque will break off the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
The idea behind World Oral Health Day this year is, as you might have guessed, to improve oral health. Many of us do not think about or realise the risks and it's important that we start to try. Although it's not yet certain whether it's a case of correlation or cause, it is worth bearing in mind that there is a definitive link between bad oral hygiene and bad health overall.