It’s the development of the simplest habits that have the greatest impact on our long-term health. Exercising, eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, and rituals to eliminate stress are recognized as key routines that we should practice to optimize our chances to live a long, healthy life.
But there is one health routine that is often neglected that may have the greatest impact of all.
Brushing your teeth. In a new book, author Angie Stone enumerates five causes of death that are promoted by periodontal disease, which in turn is a product of poor oral hygiene:
Research has indicated that periodontal disease increases the risk of the development of heart disease. Scientists believe that inflammation caused by periodontal disease may be responsible. The development of periodontal disease can also worsen existing heart conditions.
Additional studies have pointed to a relationship between periodontal disease and stroke.
People with diabetes and periodontal disease may have more trouble controlling their blood sugar than diabetic patients with healthy gums. This appears to be a two-way street. Those with periodontal disease are more likely to develop diabetes.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Research has shown those with periodontal disease have a 60 percent higher likelihood of developing COPD than those without periodontal disease.
Oral bacteria in the mouth due to poor dental hygiene have been linked to brain tissue deterioration.
The author’s main focus is on nursing home residents, who are most often dependent on others to keep their teeth clean, but there’s a valuable lesson here for all seniors.
"The elderly have increased risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, COPD, aspiration pneumonia, and thrush. The lack of adequate oral care increases these risks significantly,” says Stone.
The culprit is oropharyngeal bacteria. These bacteria can be controlled through daily brushing and between-the-teeth cleaning. But poor dental habits can lead to this bacteria “wreaking havoc,” and leading to serious illness or premature death.
Stone says the greatest risk of dying from dirty teeth comes when the bacteria in the mouth get aspirated into the lungs and the person contracts aspiration pneumonia.
It’s not too late to develop better oral hygiene habits and improve your chances of living a longer, healthier life. And it all starts with brushing your teeth — and a trip to the dentist.