We all know that neglecting our oral health leads to bad breath and sore teeth, but research now shows that brushing and flossing affect a lot more than our gums. It turns out that a healthy mouth may help you ward off medical disorders. The flip side? An unhealthy mouth, especially if you have gum disease, may increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes, and preterm labor.
Your mouth holds a lot of information
Have you ever been to the doctor and had them look inside your mouth and take a swab of saliva? This is because your mouth is a window into what’s going on in the rest of your body and often helps detect early warning signs and symptoms of systemic disease. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.
Saliva as a diagnostic tool
Your doctor can collect and test saliva to detect for a variety of things. For example, cortisol levels in saliva are a measure for stress responses in newborns. In And women and men prone to osteoporosis, small amounts of bone-specific proteins may make their way into the saliva. Even certain cancer markers are detectable in saliva.
Routine saliva testing can also measure illegal drugs, environmental toxins, hormones and antibodies indicating hepatitis or HIV infection, among other things. In fact, the ability to detect HIV-specific antibodies has led to the production of commercial, easy-to-use saliva test kits. In the future, saliva testing may replace blood testing as a means of diagnosing and monitoring diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver and many infectious diseases.
Saliva as a line of defense
Despite being slippery, slimy, and a little gross, saliva is actually an incredible natural defense against viral pathogens, bacteria, and fungus. It contains antibodies that attack everything from the common cold to HIV. It contains enzymes that destroy bacteria in different ways, by degrading bacterial membranes, inhibiting the growth and metabolism of certain bacteria, and disrupting vital bacterial enzyme systems. Certain proteins found in saliva fight back the fungus that causes oral thrush.
When you maintain good oral health and hygiene, your saliva works hard to keep your body safe and provides early warning signs for many diseases. But, if oral health is neglected, the ability of saliva to provide this protection is severely reduced. If you don’t brush and floss regularly to keep your teeth clean, plaque can build up along your gum line, creating an environment for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and your teeth. The more oral bacteria builds up, the more dental problems will occur and more harmful bacteria will slip into your bloodstream, potentially causing cardiovascular conditions and other problems. It also becomes increasingly difficult to effectively identify the proteins and hormones that aid in diagnosis when plaque and bacteria have been allowed to build up in your mouth.
Good dental hygiene is essential to healthy living. So go brush your teeth, floss thoroughly, and call your dentist today to set up an appointment.