I’ve been uninsured for the last several years—while here in Canada, I’ve sufficed on my province’s Pharmacare program for the last few years, dental care is still something I have to think about that is not covered by our provincial health program. For some reason, it’s not deemed “essential” care (much like for some reason pharmaceuticals also aren’t “built in” to the plan), yet, oral health plays a big role in our health and wellbeing—the benefits of good oral health, and consequences of poor oral health, are pretty overlooked as determinants of health and wellness!
Are you slipping on your twice a day brushing? Have you, like me, most recently encountered floss in the dentist’s chair or neglected in a drawer? Have you not seen a dentist in decades? Here are some reasons why oral health is important to the entirety of your health—and of course, I’ve selected sources not trying to sell toothpaste or dental products!
- Gum disease affects 47.2% of American adults to some extent, and these rates rise to 70% in people over 65.  Periodontitis means inflammation of the gums and tooth sockets, which can lead to tooth loss over time.  Bleeding or swollen gums may alert you to periodontis/gingivitis—often, better oral hygiene can resolve these problems. 
- If untreated, the bacteria in the gums leading to the inflammation can spread through the body, increasing risk of respiratory and heart disease, stroke, and pregnancy complications. 
- Inflammation caused by periodontal disease is potentially linked to narrowing of blood vessels, and increasing risk of stroke or heart attack (blood clots cannot pass through as easily to be broken down). 
- Similarly, endocarditis results from bacteria in the mouth traveling through the bloodstream to affect the heart lining causing damage.  Bacteria from the gums can also travel to the lungs, resulting in respiratory infections. 
- If you have diabetes or HIV/AIDS, or are immunocompromised, it is especially important to take care of your oral health, as infections can become worse or spread more quickly.  Osteoporosis and Alzheimer disease are also associated with increased risk of oral health problems. 
- Many medicines lead to dry mouth. Learn about side effects of medicines to prevent this problem that can lead to overgrowth of bacteria.  Regular mouth care can help avoid complications associated with having a dry mouth. Speak with your doctor or dentist about how to resolve dry mouth.
While going to the dentist may be costly, it is worthwhile to have an annual checkup if you can afford to, especially knowing how much your mouth can affect the rest of your body. The longer dental care is put off, the more it may cost. Even for a routine cleaning, because I waited two years following my last one, it cost around $150 more in the amount of time the hygenist had to spend cleaning my teeth! Not worth it—I’ve scheduled my follow-up for 9 months and intend to keep it!
Your dentist is also an important part of your healthcare team. If you have chronic disease, be sure to let them know if you are on any medicines like blood thinners or other meds that may affect your oral health—even something as simple-seeming as an oral contraceptive or aspirin therapy may change how they educate you about oral health care or manage your care.
Now, I’m off to get my morning brush in… at 1 pm! When it comes to dental care, “better late than never” remains a good rule!
Tomorrow is World Oral Health Day–when better to get back on the oral care “bandwagon”?