What does your mouth say about you?

Hi, I’m Melanie Pomphrett and I’m a dental hygienist in Colchester. My job involves cleaning people’s teeth, general oral hygiene and providing advice which hopefully prevents oral health problems occurring in the first place.

For me, the most rewarding part of my job is when patients come in and they have very bad gum problems which are affecting their confidence. They may put their hands over their mouth a lot or refuse to smile in photos. I enjoy helping them to address the problem and in, the process, see their confidence improve.

I decided to write a blog for National Smile Month because most of us have now not seen our dentist for quite some time. A lot of us are not in the routine that we were before lockdown, so some of the simple routines that we were used to can slip, including remember to brush your teeth. It’s not just your teeth that you are protecting when you brush and floss; most people are not aware of just how interlinked oral health is with the rest of the body.  Poor oral health has been shown to be linked to numerous other medical conditions which can have a devastating effect on people’s lives.

In fact, the mouth is considered to be the window to the rest of the body. So how does the health of our teeth and gums influence the rest of our body?  Below are some of the most common conditions and how oral health can affect them.

  • Cardiovascular disease – Studies have shown that the same bacteria present in dental plaque have also been present in the arteries and inner lining of the heart of people that have suffered with heart problems. These bacteria can get into the bloodstream and spread to the rest of the body. Make sure you are brushing your teeth for at least two minutes twice daily to remove these bacteria regularly.
  • Lung disease – The bacteria present in dental plaque can also be breathed into our lungs which increases the risk of lung problems such as pneumonia. This is a concern for anyone who may be unwell and require a breathing tube, as the bacteria can build up in this tube quite easily and it will be much harder for them to fight it off if they are already unwell. Often toothbrushing is a low priority when a person is unwell, however it is really important that assistance is given to anyone who cannot brush their own teeth as these problems are avoidable.
  • Alzheimer’s disease – Studies show that there is a link between poor oral health and Alzheimer’s disease too.  The bacteria present in those suffering with gum disease can travel to the brain and have a damaging effect. By visiting a dentist regularly, gum disease can be identified and managed before it causes serious health problems.
  • Diabetes – People with diabetes have a higher chance of suffering with gum disease, possibly as diabetes results in a higher risk of infections in general and reduced healing. The risk is higher if the diabetes if poorly controlled. Similarly, poorly controlled gum disease can actually make it harder to control blood sugar levels.
  • Pregnancy complications – It is really important to maintain a good oral hygiene routine during pregnancy as having uncontrolled gum disease has been linked with premature birth and low birth weight babies.

Some of the evidence supporting these connecting is relatively new and often people are not aware of them, but I have seen it in practice. I remember a patient was having a lot of problems with gum disease. We did everything we practically could to help her, but it just didn’t seem to be improving in the way we would expect. So the dentist suggested she go to the GP and have a test for diabetes. It came back positive and since then, with her condition being well-managed, the problems with her gums have dramatically improved.

The best way to avoid oral and general health problems is to care for your teeth and gums and prevent them from occurring in the first place. You can prevent oral disease by brushing twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste using either an electric toothbrush or a manual toothbrush with a small head and soft-medium textured bristles. Adults should also clean in between their teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes at least once a day to remove plaque bacteria from in between the teeth which cannot be accessed with a toothbrush alone. Toothbrushes should be replaced every 3 months, after a period of illness or when the bristles begin to splay outwards, if the bristles of your brush begin to splay outwards after only a few weeks then you may be brushing too hard!

Visiting a dentist regularly is essential to identify any problems early but also to provide you with tailored advice on the best ways to care for your teeth at home. Right now, that might not be so easy, but lots of dentists are still answering their phones to triage patients and find solutions to any issues they may be encountering. So the first point of call with any dental problems should still remain your dental practice. There are services available for anyone who may suffer with severe dental anxiety or cannot access a general dental practice for any reason. A healthy diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables and avoiding habits such as smoking is also key to maintaining good oral health.

You may also find the following links helpful: