Most people know that maintaining poor dental hygiene habits can cause a number of oral concerns, including bad breath, tooth decay, and even gum (periodontal) disease. What many people don’t know, however, is that aside from these conditions, failing to regularly brush and floss may eventually lead to other serious, potentially life-threatening issues. These illnesses and their potential links to dental hygiene are highlighted below.
- Alzheimer’s Disease – In a 20-year-long study involving 152 men and women, researchers at New York University found a strong correlation between the presence of gum disease and decreased cognitive function. In fact, participants of the study who had gum inflammation were nine times more likely to score in the lower cognitive test range. Building on these findings, University of Central Lancashire researchers compared 10 brain samples of Alzheimer’s patients with 10 brain samples of non-Alzheimer’s patients, ultimately discovering that Porphyromonas gingivalis – a bacterium typically associated with gum disease – was present in the Alzheimer’s samples but absent in the non-Alzheimer’s samples.
- Pancreatic Cancer – Analyzing a Health Professionals Follow-Up Study on gum disease that involved over 51,000 men, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that there was a 64% increased risk of pancreatic cancer in men who had a history of gum disease compared to men who did not. Though further studies have failed to prove whether the gum disease-related bacteria are a cause or a result of pancreatic cancer, researchers have verified the two are undoubtedly linked in some way.
- Heart Disease – A joint team of researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons (Dublin) and the University of Bristol (UK) have concluded that individuals who have bleeding gums resulting from poor dental hygiene may be at an increased risk of heart disease. Research suggests that when the gums are bleeding, bacteria from the mouth can easily enter the bloodstream, potentially sticking to platelets and causing blood clots to form. Should this occur, blood flow to the heart can be disrupted, possibly leading to a heart attack in some instances.
Ultimately, none of this is to say poor dental hygiene habits will definitely cause Alzheimer’s, pancreatic cancer, and/or heart disease. However, these studies certainly present a strong case for a link between one’s oral and overall health, making it all the more important to brush, floss, and receive routine hygiene visits on a regular basis. For most patients, I recommend brushing (for two minutes) and flossing at least twice a day, as well as scheduling a professional teeth cleaning and oral exam twice a year.
– Todd Mabry, DDS
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