Not many people know that March 20th marks the world’s “Oral Health Day” every year. Celebrated in more than 75 countries, the occasion is a day usually devoted to special programs and events aimed at raising awareness of the importance of oral health in both children and adults. The 2014 Oral Health Day was all about “Celebrating Healthy Smiles.”
By now you must be wondering why oral health is so important that it deserves to have its own celebration day. After all, we’re not talking about life threatening conditions or incurables diseases, or are we?
The importance of Oral health
Oral Health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as: “a state of being free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancer, oral sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, periodontal (gum) disease, tooth decay and tooth loss, and other diseases and disorders that affect the oral cavity. Risk factors for oral diseases include unhealthy diet, tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, and poor oral hygiene.” (source: http://www.who.int/topics/oral_health)
It is, in fact, so important that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a special division for Oral Health.
The Mouth – Body connection – how poor oral health affects you
The mouth-body connection is stronger than you may realize. The connection between oral health and the condition of other organs in our body, has been realized long ago by the ancient Chinese. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine model (also known as the TCM), oral health is connected directly with the kidney and spleen system. Like bones, teeth are considered an extension of the kidney meridian. To understand the impact, you have to know that the kidney system includes: the kidneys, the urinary, adrenal glands and reproduction systems as well as bones and teeth. The Spleen system, also affected by and connected to oral health, includes the spleen, pancreas and stomach. It is responsible for digestive health, which we all know is important and controls many conditions and autoimmune diseases.
But Chinese Medicine is not the only one connecting oral health to general health. It is also modern medicine that makes this connection. Up until a few years ago, a cardiologist who suspected a patient has a heart condition, would never have sent that patient to consult a Gum specialist. But these days the connection between heart disease and gums disease is well known.
Here is a partial list of the conditions and ailments affected by poor oral health:
- Heart disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Lung conditions
You can read more about the specific connection between oral health and the above conditions here.
To understand how oral health affects your body and overall health you have to remember that your mouth is not separate from your body. Your body is a complex interconnected machine. When bacteria builds up on or between the teeth, your gums are likely to become infected. In a healthy person the immune system will kick in, trying to fight the infection. The result: inflammation.
The inflammation continues as long as the infection is not under control. Chemicals released by the inflammation eat away at the gums and also at the bone. The result is severe Gum disease, called Periodontitis.
Moreover, inflammation is the cause of many issues all over the body, especially chronic inflammation, which goes on for a long time.
Maintaining good Oral Hygiene Habits is Crucial to your Oral and general Health
Now that you understand the mouth-body connection and the adverse effects of poor oral health, you must be realizing that when your dental hygienist or dentist insist that you floss at least once a day and brush your teeth twice a day, they don’t just do it to pester you. They do it because it truly is crucial to your overall health and life.
Acquisition and maintenance of good oral hygiene habits is never too late or too early to start. In fact, it is recommended by American Dental Association (ADA) that parents should start brushing and even flossing for their children as soon as they have two adjacent teeth, even if they are their “baby” (primary) teeth.
Children should be able to floss on their own by the age of 10 and to brush their teeth on their own even before that. But to do that they must have the right tools for the job – a good brush and a comfortable, painless floss – and the guidance of their parents.