By Dr. Gerard Muraida
Our mouths contain many bacteria, most of them harmless, although left unchecked they can cause disease.
The body’s natural defenses include saliva that washes away food and controls acids produced by the bacteria. This protection can be diminished by certain medications, including pain medications, diuretics, antihistamines, and decongestants. Some antidepressants, too, can cause decreased saliva.
Proper oral hygiene (brushing and flossing) is a key element in limiting oral bacterial growth. The result can be prevention of tooth and gum disease.
However, unchecked oral bacteria can cause health problems beyond the mount. It can enter the blood stream and infect your heart valves, causing endocarditis. This can lead to poor heart function and may require a long period of intravenous antibiotics.
Pneumonia is another common condition related to bacterial overgrowth in the mouth. Coughing and then swallowing mucous loaded with bacteria may lead to a severe lung infection. Osteoporosis has been linked to periodontal bone loss and resulting tooth loss. Diabetes, a condition where blood sugar is elevated, may reduce the body’s resistance to infection. It appears that individuals with gum disease tend to have diabetes and have a more difficult time controlling their sugar levels.
Auto-immune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome are diseases that result in chronic inflammation and can cause dry mouth. This is another cause of poor saliva production. Oral ulcers have been associated HIV/AIDS and some cancers.
The brain can also be the target of poor oral health. A study from University of Illinois at Chicago recently showed that exposure to periodontal bacteria caused mice to develop neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, and brain senile plaques. These plaques are similar to the senile plaques in human Alzheimer’s disease.
The best medicine to protect yourself is to practice good oral hygiene daily. Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste. Floss daily, and use a mouthwash after brushing and flossing. Limit food and drink high in sugar content. Avoid all types of tobacco, and visit your dentist regularly.