If you’re wondering, “How does oral health affect my overall health?”, you’ll want to read this. From gingivitis and swollen gums to teeth grinding and sleep apnoea, here are five ways your oral health can be directly linked to your overall wellbeing. A regular visit to a dental clinic can help you stay on top of things, and help find solutions to any problems through mouth guards, braces and more.
#1 How gums give answers
The mouth can give an indication of other illnesses that may be occurring in the body, explains DR CLARA GIBSON, a dentist at Expat Dental who is experienced in complex orthodontic treatments. “For example, conditions such as Crohn’s disease, nutritional deficiencies, endocrine diseases and acid reflux all show clinical signs in the oral cavity.”
And, while periodontal gum disease is associated with bleeding gums, swollen gums, gingivitis, bad breath and loose teeth, she says there is now growing evidence that the effects are also more indicative of what’s going on in the body as a whole.
“Poorly controlled gum disease is known to make it harder to manage diabetes mellitus; conversely, poorly controlled diabetes can lead to worsening of gum disease,” says Dr Gibson. “There is also increasing evidence that gum disease can increase the likelihood of developing heart disease. Gum inflammation allows bacteria to enter into the bloodstream, causing other cardiac issues.”
A regular dental check-up, she says, could help pick up not only gum disease, but also other diseases that are occurring in the body, thus allowing more prompt management.
“The reassuring news is that your dentist is trained to identify any signs of disease, whether in the teeth, gums, soft tissue or lymph nodes in the head and neck. Regular reviews ensure that they will quickly detect any new findings and can help manage these with you. There’s no doubt that maintaining good oral health can positively impact your health as a whole.”
What colour are your gums?
Did you know that the colour of your gums could actually tell a lot about the state of health in the rest of your body? Pink- coloured gums, soft tissues of the mouth and tongue, are usually indicators of healthy, normal tissue, explains DR MAY LING EIDE, orthodontist and dental surgeon at Skye Dental clinic. Of course, there may be varying shades of pink, or sometimes even shades of brown and black depending on genetics and skin tone.
“An assessment of the colour and texture of all the soft tissues of the mouth is part of the routine of a good and thorough six-monthly dental checkup,” she says.
Firm and pink gums are a good indication that you’re taking care of your oral health, including your teeth and gums, says Dr Eide. It’s a good indicator that there isn’t gum disease. “But, remember that gums can be light or dark pink to be healthy.”
Red gums are the most common sign of gingivitis, and are often accompanied by bleeding on brushing. They can also appear as swollen gums, and in some cases appear “flappy” or peeling away from the teeth. Additionally, red gums are often sensitive or painful. “But, you’d be surprised to know that pain is not always a complaint for patients with periodontal gum disease.”
Deep pink or purplish gums can be a variation of normal. However, severe cases of gum disease and gingivitis can also present as purple, especially when other signs and symptoms such as pain, swelling and a change in consistency or contour are present.
White or very pale gums or soft tissues can occur for a variety of reasons. These may include fungal infection, anaemia and certain types of trauma. See your dentist if your gums are white.
How regular visits to your dentist can help
How often should you visit the dentist for a checkup? To maintain good oral health and keep tabs on your teeth, gums and soft tissues, the team at Skye Dental clinic suggests every four to six months, based on the individual’s needs.
#2 Tooth alignment – More than cosmetic
By practicing effective dental hygiene, we’re able to remove bacteria before it becomes problematic – not just for our oral health but our general health, too. But when teeth are too widely spaced or crowded, gums often become inflamed and red; these are signs of periodontal gum disease. Therefore, orthodontic treatment is key to helping the gums fit properly around the teeth, as it creates the strongest possible protection against periodontal problems. These problems can range from mild redness, swollen gums (gingivitis) and bleeding gums when you brush to complete damage to the support structure of a tooth, and eventual tooth loss.
Of course, straight teeth means easier – and therefore better – cleaning and flossing too. In fact, patients with crooked teeth often complain that they find it hard to keep their teeth and gums clean. When crowded teeth are straightened out with braces or Invisalign, brushing becomes more effective, explains DR DAPHNE CHUA of Aesthete Smilestudio, a dental clinic in Raffles Place.
“With better oral hygiene and less food trapping, your gum health will improve. A beautiful and fresh smile will then follow,” she says.
Straight teeth can even have a positive impact on mental health. Studies show that having a better smile not only increases how much you smile, but also improves your confidence and lowers your stress levels.
So, it’s really worth considering orthodontic treatment no matter your age. And, with more aesthetically pleasing options like Invisalign, clear ceramic and lingual braces available, it’s easier than ever to straighten your teeth in an inconspicuous way.
The benefits of early intervention
Early orthodontic intervention is important, as it is essentially the prevention of certain dental conditions involving the bite and position of teeth from becoming worse, or from affecting normal dental and facial development in young children, explains Dr Eide. In fact, some conditions are easier to treat in younger children than in older teenagers and young adults.
Seeing an orthodontist early can:
- Reduce the risk of trauma to the teeth or to the gum tissues. Prevention of wear to the teeth affected by imperfect positioning can help prevent protruding teeth, crossbones, deep bites, teeth grinding and other jaw issues.
- Make space for new teeth to come through.
- Stop habits like thumb-sucking.
- Improve self-esteem.
Therefore, having an orthodontic check-up when the first permanent teeth are erupting will help parents to be better prepared regarding potential problems, or lack of, and prepare for any necessary future intervention.
#3 Stress and teeth grinding
Stress affects our physical and mental health. But did you know it can have a big impact on our oral health as well? DR BRENDAN GIN is an Australian dentist at Smilefocus, a dental clinic in Orchard. He says that stress often manifests with clenching or teeth grinding (bruxism). This teeth grinding, in turn, can lead to headaches, tired jaws, premature wearing of the enamel leading to increased sensitivity, and even a stiff neck.
“Most people with bruxism are unaware they are grinding teeth or clenching, as it often occurs at night during sleep; but, daytime bruxism is also common. Over 30 percent of the population is affected by this disorder and the trend is on the rise,” says Dr Gin.
Since it’s impossible to eliminate stress from our lives completely, teeth grinding can be best managed when detected early. A custom-made mouthguard (dental splint), is often recommended. Worn at night, the splint can relieve pain by helping to improve the position of the jaw joint – known as the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) – thus reducing stress elsewhere in the jaw and surrounding facial muscles.
“If you think you or a loved one may be teeth grinding, make an appointment to see your dentist, who can review and recommend accordingly,” says Dr Gin.
#4 How hormones can impact your oral health
From swollen gums to sensitivity, your hormones can really wreak havoc on your mouth. Hormone levels rise and fall throughout different stages of life, and these changes can affect everything from your mood to your weight to your dental health. For example, during a woman’s menstrual cycle, higher hormone levels increase blood flow to the gums, making them more sensitive and prone to gum irritation.
Swollen gums and pregnancy’s other powers
When a woman gets pregnant, her hormone levels change dramatically. Oestrogen and progesterone levels start to rise quickly and a new hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin is produced. This results in many changes in a woman’s body – including her gums.
“During pregnancy, a woman will usually have more gum inflammation due to the increased blood volume. She may also develop teeth sensitivity in addition to swollen gums,” explains CINDY HO EE-LIN of Aesthete Smilestudio. “There is also an increased rate of gum infection and tooth decay during pregnancy.”
Therefore, it’s important for women to practice good oral health habits to help with a healthy pregnancy.
“A bad oral infection can increase the chances of pregnancy complications, such as low birth weight, birth complications, even miscarriage,” says Dr Ho. “Ideally, a woman should see a dentist even before she conceives to ensure she’s healthy and free of decay. We also encourage mums-to-be to have a simple cleaning and polishing during their second trimester, if their gynae confirms it’s all right.”
Additionally, women should make sure they brush twice daily with a fluoridated toothpaste, floss regularly every night and use a good mouthwash for their gums.
Gingivitis and other ways menopause can affect your mouth
As women age, our oestrogen levels decrease, which is totally normal. With this decrease in hormones can come dryness throughout the body – including the mouth. This is why dry mouth is a common symptom among women going through menopause, explains DR CHRISTINA LIEW, an Australian dentist at Smilefocus. While this is a not-so-pleasant side effect of changing hormones, the lack of saliva production can do more than just make you thirsty.
For one, a decrease in saliva can put you at higher risk of tooth decay and gingivitis. This is because saliva cleanses the teeth and rinses cavity-causing bacteria from the mouth. So, in order to reduce your risk of tooth decay, it’s important to prioritise your oral hygiene, she says.
“Close attention to oral hygiene is imperative, as you’ll be more prone to tooth decay. Regular brushing, flossing and a professional scale and clean every six months are recommended.”
Additionally, what you eat can also make a difference when it comes to dry mouth. She suggests avoiding salty, spicy, sticky and sugary foods. Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine can also make dry mouth worse.
What’s more, the decreased oestrogen levels that come with menopause can put women at increased risk of loss of bone density. This loss of density means you’re more susceptible to fractures, including fractures of the jawbone.
“To help reduce your risk of osteoporosis, work with your physician to make sure you’re getting the right amount of calcium, vitamin D and magnesium in your diet to maintain a healthy jaw bone to support your teeth,” advises Dr Liew.
#5 Signs of a sleep disorder
Did you know that dentists can spot signs of a sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)? The condition, which can affect both adults and children, causes breathing to repeatedly stop and start during sleep. This reduces oxygen flow to the brain. If untreated, OSA can have a number of long-term health complications. These include high blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions and memory loss, not to mention daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating.
OSA can lead to dental problems too. For children with OSA, mouth-breathing is very common. It has easily recognisable dental effects, explains DR SHAUN THOMPSON, an American dentist at Expat Dental clinic. These include dry mouth, plaque build-up and gum inflammation, as well as potential over-bites and reduced jaw growth.
While your dentist may not be able to conclusively diagnose the condition, symptoms recognised during regular dental clinic visits can help them decide if a referral to a sleep specialist or ENT is needed.
In adults, oral appliance therapy can be used to treat snoring and OSA. Worn while asleep, the device is similar to an orthodontic retainer. It allows your airway to remain open by supporting the lower jaw in a position that alleviates air restrictions. Of course, these devices are best designed and fitted by experienced dentists trained in sleep disorder therapy, says Dr Thompson. Talk to your dentist if you think you or your child may be suffering from sleep-disordered breathing.
Dental Clinic Directory
#02-04 Clifford Centre, 24 Raffles Place
6438 3811 | aesthetesmilestudio.com
• #08-15/16 Novena Medical Centre, 10 Sinaran Drive | 6397 6718
• #01-00 Malacca Centre, 20 Malacca Street | 6816 5732
#08-02/03 and #08-07/08 Camden Medical Centre,
1 Orchard Boulevard
6733 9882 | 6834 0877 | smilefocus.com.sg
This article first appeared in the July 2021 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!