A visit to the dentist will enlighten you about your health. Credit: Getty Images
If a friend says you have bad breath, don’t take offense. That friend could be saving your life, or at least helping improve your health.
“Those little bugs that cause bad breath can be so harmful to the rest of your body,” says Dr. Sezelle Gereau-Haddon, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) and integrative medicine specialist at New York’s Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital. “The mouth is the gateway to your body. Bad breath can be a warning to take action to stay well.”
Good oral health and whole body health have become a focus for the medical community at large (March 20 marks World Oral Health Day). Because arterial plaque matches microorganisms in tooth plaque, dental health is known to affect heart health. A number of illnesses, including osteoporosis, oral cancer, arthritis and allergies are also linked.
“I often see an association in patients, particularly in allergy and autoimmune disease,” says Gereau-Haddon. “It makes perfect sense. The body calls out its soldiers to fight the invaders, but the body doesn’t understand that the attack is in the mouth and so it turns on itself elsewhere.”
For general health, controlling periodontal disease via daily brushing (two minutes each time, twice a day!) and flossing (daily) is an important part of basic care. And you can take it one step further.
“I advise [oral] probiotics to swish in the mouth to fight bacteria,” Gereau-Haddon says. “Then swallow, so the gut gets the good bacteria.”
A dangerous side effect of diabetes is vascular restriction throughout the body, including poor blood flow to the gums, starving the tissue and encouraging bad bacterial overgrowth. A domino effect comes into play: “It snowballs,” says Gereau-Haddon, “because that bacteria can then affect other organs and general health. Diabetics have to be vigilant about oral health.
New toothpaste we love
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