No one likes a trip to the dentist, but it’s far better than the alternative. We’re talking about more than just a cavity here and there—we’re talking about tooth decay and the major ramifications it can have on your total health and wellbeing. That’s right: the ramifications of poor oral hygiene stretch far beyond your mouth! Neglecting your teeth can get you up for some serious (and scary) health problems if you’re not careful.

Let’s take a look at 5 major ways tooth decay can negatively impact your health and how something as minor as a few unfilled cavities can dramatically change your entire outlook on health and wellness.

1. Respiratory infections

According to several studies published in the Journal of Periodontology, unchecked tooth decay quickly turns into gum disease, which can cause major problems for your throat and lungs if left to spread. Evidence from these studies suggests a correlation between those with poor oral health and gum disease and severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. The older you are, the more this risk increases, as well.

Because gum disease is bacterial in nature, those with high levels of the bacteria in their mouths are more at risk for breathing them in, resulting in bacteria in the lungs. When in the lungs, these bacteria quickly turn into a full-blown infection and generally isn’t caught until it becomes a severe upper-respiratory condition.

2. Diabetic complications

If you have diabetes, you’re already at an increased risk of complications from things like low blood sugar. If your gums are inflamed or your teeth are in poor condition, it makes controlling your blood sugar even harder. Worse still, a rare complication of diabetes is periodontal disease, which can further cause your oral health to erode.

Because people with diabetes have a harder time-fighting infection, problems with tooth decay can become dire very quickly, leading to even more issues. For example, bleeding gums are common, which can lead to deeper and more intense infections, simply because a diabetic patient may not have the ability to fight off the initial infection.

3. Cardiovascular problems

Moving past your mouth, throat and lungs, cardiovascular (heart) problems are another concern involved with poor oral hygiene and tooth decay. The reason for this is, again, bacteria. Bacterial entering your bloodstream through an oral infection can make their way throughout the body, but most often end up in your heart, since all blood must flow through it. Once there, it clings to heart valves and hardens, making it harder for your heart to pump blood throughout the body. This can lead to heart disease.

In some other cases, endocarditis—an inflammation of the lining of the heart—can be caused by the same bacteria. The Mayo Clinic also links oral bacteria specifically to cardiovascular disease, which can stress your heart and make it work much harder than it needs to, leading to premature issues like stroke, heart attack and more.

4. Kidney disease

In the same way bacteria in the bloodstream can affect your heart, it can also affect your kidneys. Periodontal disease and other forms of tooth decay leave the gums pulled back from the teeth, which allows for larger pockets to develop around them. Bacteria enter into these pockets, fester and are eventually absorbed into the bloodstream. When they get to your kidneys they can attack and cause your kidneys to function ineffectively when it comes to filtering excess waste out of your body. This leads to buildups causing kidney failure and other renal conditions.

5. Rheumatoid Arthritis

Your joint health is at risk if you have poor oral hygiene! According to the Arthritis Foundation, those with gum disease are as much as 4x times more likely to also have Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s not a coincidence! Both gum disease and arthritis are inflammatory conditions. Gingivitis, in particular, is known for its severe inflammation, which can incite arthritis flare-ups if the bacteria causing it are in the bloodstream. Taking care of your teeth could help you from experiencing severe, debilitating pain in your joints, caused by arthritis.

Put your oral health first

Brushing twice a day only takes minutes, but taking the time to do it right could save you a world of troubles when it comes to your overall health and wellness. Preventing oral bacteria from taking root in your mouth and spreading to other areas of the body could mean the difference between a bright, white smile and something as severe as heart disease or rheumatoid arthritis! If you’re not already, keep these oral hygiene tips in mind to help prevent tooth decay:

  • Brush twice daily
  • Floss thoroughly
  • Keep routine dental appointments
  • Use a sterilization rinse
  • Keep a healthy diet

Doing the little things for your teeth can go a long way towards making sure the rest of your body is healthy and happy!

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