If there were ever a universal human skill, beyond things like running, jumping, and solving problems, it would be the excellent capacity humans display for ignoring good dental hygiene.
Brushing and flossing after every meal is a difficult habit to build in kids, and one that’s joyously forgotten among many adults. But it’s not just gum disease that could visit those who ignore their dentist’s advice: Recent research has linked gum disease to many other diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as increases in COVID-19 mortality.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to gingivitis, a gum disease which if ignored can become the more severe periodontitis. The latter was found in a study by the European Federation of Periodontology to affect half of all British adults, and by the CDC to affect about the same amount of American adults.
The Journal of Clinical Periodontology found that people with COVID-19 and gum disease had a 900% greater chance of dying from the virus, while also being 350% more likely to be hospitalized.
While the two phenomena seem completely unrelated, the correlation is simply the result of chronic inflammation, spurred on by diseased gums, exacerbating the inflammatory response generated by the SARS-CoV-2.
This knock on effect is quite common in pathology, with some inflammatory responses like interleukin (IL) and tumor-necrosis-factor (TNF) being correspondingly found in nearly every disease known to man. IL-6 is a principal factor in COVID-19 mortality for example.
The cause is simply the function that different immune agents have on our body. One of the leading inducers of death in COVID-19-afflicted patients is the much-discussed “cytokine storm” referring to inflammatory cytokines, a type of immune cell, targeting our own tissues with such fury that they cannot survive.
Fortunately, regular brushing and flossing, which in terms of healthy habits is much easier to do than cutting sugar out of your diet or spending 150 minutes a week in intense exercise, is often all that’s required to prevent gum disease.
Furthermore, periodontitis is completely reversible through good oral hygiene practices of brushing, flossing, and mouthwash use.
The window of your body
“The Covid study is another pointer to the fact that you need to have a healthy mouth for your overall health,” Nicola West, the secretary general of the European Federation of Periodontology, told the Times of London.
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“The mouth is a window on the body. Bacteria in the mouth get into the bloodstream where they can harm the rest of the body. This explains why gum disease has been linked with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.”
Yes, you did in fact read dementia. A study conducted by West found that bacteria prevalent in patients with periodontitis were also present in the brains of patients who died from Alzheimer’s disease.
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This is because, West writes, gum-disease bacteria can cross the blood-brain barrier, especially later in life when our immune systems are weaker, and our risk for gum disease grows higher.
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In short, there’s never been a better time to start improving your oral hygiene routine. A beautiful smile apparently reflects beautiful health, after all.
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