By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune health reporter
Oral health is part of the body’s overall health. Maintaining the health of your mouth, teeth, and surrounding tissue is as important as keeping up with physical health. Both are intertwined and work together, what affects the mouth affects the body. It is easy to forget or take for granted oral health but there are a few, easy steps you can take to keep your mouth and body healthy.
“Your mouth is a window into the health of your body,” says the American Dental Association (ADA). Considering everything the mouth does: eats, speaks, smiles, and show emotions, protecting your biggest asset is good for the body and mind.
The National Institute for Health’s (NIH) 2018 report shows that 92% of adults ages 20-64 have had cavities in their permanent teeth. This is a good reminder of the need to have good oral hygiene.
Thinking about oral health during a pandemic might not seem obvious but is especially important with COVID-19 says Dr. Kevin McMahon of Edgewood Dental Care.
“With COVID and the virus, if you’re immune-compromised, if you have an infection somewhere in your system, and your body has some other factor that it is trying to fight, it makes it [that much] harder to kick the virus,” Dr. McMahon says.
At the start of the pandemic when everything was closed, Dr. McMahon continued to see emergency cases. He says he saw a tremendous amount of infections.
“It’s amazing what I have seen since all this started,” he says.
He is not sure if it was stress-related, lack of care, or a combination of both, but in journals he has read, he said it is obvious he is not the only one who noticed this.
Infections found in the mouth are found in all places of the body including the pancreas and the arteries, says Dr. McMahon. When people are having procedures and surgeries, like joint replacement, Dr. McMahon is seeing them in his dentist’s office first.
“That’s to make sure there are no infections of the gums because [doctors] feel like there’s some correlation or connection between the bacteria in your mouth going to that joint causing problems,” says Dr. McMahon.
There are conditions, such as diabetes, says Dr. McMahon, which affects the mouth. With both Type 1 and 2 diabetes, there is an increased risk of inflamed gums, called gingivitis. Losing a sense of taste, infections in the mouth and wounds taking longer to heal are all signs according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With such conditions, your dentist can recognize the signs and work with you on maintaining your oral health.
When it comes to keeping up with oral health, Dr. McMahon says to use common sense care. He and the ADA say everyone knows to brush twice a day but did you know most people brush improperly? The ADA recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums, moving in short, back and forth strokes. Brush for two minutes, twice a day.
When asked what people do wrong when it comes to oral care, the answer was a quick “not flossing.” Dr. McMahon laughed as he recalled a study informing people they no longer needed to floss.
“Just floss the teeth you want to keep, right,” he says. Flossing once a day gets rid of bacteria in between the teeth which cause cavities.
Besides brushing and flossing, Dr. McMahon says nutrition absolutely plays a role in your mouth’s health.
“Gums are made of tissue, collagen, and things like that, so the better you eat, the more vitamins you take in,” he says. Vitamin D is key because it helps absorb calcium which is crucial for building bones. Vitamin D also helps with the immune system. Gingivitis is an inflammation, meaning the gums are inflamed. Vitamin D helps in maintaining the immune system, keeping the inflammation down.
Some simple steps the ADA says to keep in mind for good health are:
• brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste,
• floss every day,
• eat healthily,
• avoid sugary drinks and snacks,
• visit your dentist regularly,
• drink water with fluoride,
• do not use tobacco products, and
• avoid oral piercings.
“You keep your fingernails cut and keep your hair combed, you do all that kind of stuff,” Dr. McMahon says.
Taking care of your oral health is all part of personal hygiene and body health. Feeling your best physically and emotionally starts with your smile.