Teeth and gum care is essential. Excellent oral and dental hygiene can help prevent bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. It can also help keep your teeth strong as you age.
There are also discoveries on the importance of brushing and flossing. A healthy mouth may help you ward off medical disorders. According to studies, an unhealthy mouth may increase your risk of severe health problems and may cause a heart attack or stroke.
Your mouth is a window into what’s going on inside your body. A look inside or a swab of saliva can tell your doctor volumes about your health. Many conditions show oral signs and symptoms. Systemic diseases, such as AIDS or diabetes, often manifest first in the form of mouth lesions. The Academy of General Dentistry describes that the majority of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.
Saliva as a Diagnostic Tool
Your doctor can collect and test saliva to detect a variety of substances. For example, cortisol levels in saliva help determine stress responses in newborn children. Fragments of bone-specific proteins may be useful in monitoring bone loss in women and men who are prone to osteoporosis. Some cancer markers are also detectable in saliva.
Routine saliva testing can also measure antibodies indicating hepatitis or HIV infection. 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 diseases such as diabetes.
How does the saliva fight bacteria and viruses?
Saliva is one of your body’s primary defenses against disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. It contains antibodies that attack viral pathogens such as the common cold and HIV. It also includes proteins called histatins, which inhibit the growth of a fungus called Candida albicans. When these proteins get weak due to HIV or other illnesses, the candida can grow out of control, causing a fungal infection called oral thrush.
Saliva also contains enzymes that destroy bacteria and degrades bacterial membranes. It inhibits the growth and metabolism of certain bacteria and disrupts vital bacterial enzyme systems.
However, even though your saliva helps protect you against bacteria and viruses, it is not 100% effective. There are hundreds of species of bacteria that thrive in your mouth at any given time. These bacteria form dental plaque — a sticky, colorless film that can cling to your teeth and cause health problems.
Your mouth as an infection source
If you don’t brush and floss, plaque can build up along your gum line, creating an environment for bacteria to accumulate. This gum infection, known as gingivitis, can lead to a more serious condition called periodontitis. Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, also called trench mouth, is the most severe form of gum infection.
Bacteria from your mouth don’t enter your bloodstream. But, invasive dental treatments, even brushing and flossing, can provide a port of entry for microbes, if you have gum disease. Medications that reduce saliva flow and antibiotics can compromise your mouth’s defenses.
The importance of a healthy mouth
The link between your mouth’s health and your overall health provides more reason for you to maintain regular dental care. So remember to practice good oral hygiene every day. It is an investment in having a healthier body.