As patients who regularly read our Sonora dentist blog know, our oral and overall health are connected in ways we might not suspect. In fact, individuals who suffer from poor oral health have a higher risk of developing a range of different types of cancer and of suffering a heart attack, according to a new study.
The study examined the oral health of over 50,000 Iranian participants between the ages of 40 to 75 during a nine-year period. Among the study participants, 42 percent were male and 58 percent were female.
As part of the study, researchers from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences administered questionnaires to determine how frequently each participant brushed their teeth, used dentures or implants, and to determine the number of decayed, missing, or filled teeth each participant possessed. The responses were then analyzed by researchers and the data used to determine any possible links between morality and oral health.
The results of the study were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
This study marks the first attempt by Iranian researchers to determine a possible connection between mortality rates and oral health.
The Mouth/Body Connection
During the nine-year study, more than 3,800 participants died, of whom, 1,981 died due to cardiovascular diseases, 839 to cancer, and 217 due to accident or injury.
After examining the collected data, researcher determined that individuals suffering from poor oral health faced the risk of a shortened lifespan when compared to participants who enjoyed quality oral health. The results of the study found that poor oral health could increase an individual’s mortality risk by up to 40 percent.
Based on the researchers’ findings, the study determined that brushing twice a day could significantly decrease the risk of death due to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke.
“Previous studies have found associations between oral health and mortality, but the majority of studies were conducted in high-income countries,” noted the study.
Currently, 15 similar studies have been conducted worldwide. Of those 15 studies, 12 have found compelling links between poor oral health and increased mortality risk. Iran ranks as the only developing country to conduct a study on this subject.
Improved Awareness Needed
“People should be made aware of the importance of oral health. Oral health has an impact on physical health, and is associated with chronic conditions including, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer,” wrote researchers.
Bacteria in the bloodstream caused by an oral infection has the ability to travel to other areas of the body, such as the heart, where it can cause inflammation to develop. Inflammation is often considered the root cause of systemic disease in the body.
Once harmful oral bacteria find its way into the inner linings of the heart and its valves, it can create pockets of bacterial growth that directly lead to infection and an increased risk of heart attack. Poor oral hygiene can also cause an increase of oral bacteria in the lungs, joints, and even potentially the brain. Poor oral health can also have a negative psychological impact, as missing teeth can lead to poor self-esteem, which could impact an individual’s personal and professional lives.
Despite the chronic long-term health problems associated with poor oral health, a lack of public awareness and an access to dental care can lead to an epidemic of tooth decay and gum disease.
Access to Oral Health Care a Factor
Tooth decay remains one of the most common chronic illness in Iran and around the globe, especially in still developing countries. On average, every Iranian suffers from more than two decayed, filled, or missing teeth. The global average is 1.8.
One of the causes for unfavorable oral health conditions is the lack of a nationwide oral hygiene program designed to raise awareness. Additionally, access to oral health care is extremely limited, mostly due to inadequate insurance coverage and an insufficient number of dental practitioners.
The need for better prevention is one reason why your Sonora dentist recommends that every patient receive regular exams and cleanings to lower their risk of the dental decay and disease the leads to an increased mortality risk. While dental care may be more available in the U.S. than in a developing country like Iran, increased access does little to help protect patient health if not regularly used. What studies like this show is that protecting our oral health matters far more than just ensuring a great looking smile. It could be a matter of life or death.