We’ve talked before about the links between oral health and general health. It’s important to understand the degree to which your daily choices about something as basic as brushing and flossing your teeth can have a major impact on your health and can make the difference between life and death.

Gum Disease and Heart Risks

One of the strongest links between your oral health and your overall health is the link between gum disease and heart risks. Gum disease bacteria enter your blood, and from there they can infect your heart or your arteries, where they grow in the arterial plaque that contributes to heart disease and stroke risk. In response to the presence of oral bacteria in your heart, your body releases inflammatory hormones that help your immune system but can damage your heart and blood vessels.

The extent of this connection has been laid bare by two different analyses published using results from the STABILITY (Stabilisation of Atherosclerotic Plaque by Initiation of Darapladib Therapy) trial, which includes more than 15,000 individuals with coronary heart disease. The STABILITY trial studies linked heart health to tooth loss.

In the first study, researchers found that more lost teeth were associated with higher fasting glucose levels (i.e. diabetes risk), higher LDL cholesterol levels (“bad: cholesterol), high blood pressure, and waist circumference. In the second study, the analysis became even more pointed. They found that people who had lost all their teeth had an 81% increased risk of all-cause death, including an 85% increased risk of cardiovascular death, and a 67% increase in stroke risk. This isn’t just for people who have lost all their teeth. Researchers divided the population into five categories of tooth loss and found that each category of tooth loss led to a 16% increased risk of all-cause death, and a 17% increased risk of cardiovascular death.

Gum Disease and Cancer

But heart risk isn’t the only reason to be concerned about your oral health. Gum disease and oral bacteria can also increase your cancer risks. Most recently, it was discovered that there is a link between oral bacteria and esophageal cancer, which is hard to detect and has a very high mortality rate. Gum disease has also been linked to oral cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer.

We may even know why these are linked. Studies have shown that gum disease bacteria can “hide” cancer cells from our immune system.

Your Actions Make a Difference

These risks are very real, but they’re not inevitable. A 2011 study looking at about 5600 seniors established the concrete link between your mortality risk and your decisions to brush, floss, and see the dentist.

The study found that never brushing was associated with a 20-35% higher risk of all-cause mortality over the period of the study (from 1992 to 2009) compared to brushing every night.

The study also found that never flossing was associated with a 30% higher risk of all-cause mortality over flossing every night. Finally, not seeing a dentist within the last 12 months was associated with a 30-50% higher risk of all-cause mortality than making your twice annual checkup and hygiene visits.

So, if you really want to do something to improve your health and live a longer, happier life, please remember to brush, floss, and call (702) 873-0324 for an appointment with a Las Vegas dentist at the office of Dr. James B. Polley.