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They are one of the most neglected parts of the body and keeping our teeth and gums clean is often considered a chor. Oral hygiene refers to more than just pearly white teeth, pink gums and fresh breath. Poor oral cleaning habits can cause plaque and tartar to build up around the teeth and speed up the process of decay. Further, untreated gum conditions can cause an impact on one’s overall well-being. Recent studies show a connection between oral diseases and strokes, heart diseases, diabetes and complications in birth of babies. Infections on mouth can also affect major organs and contribute to oral cancer, digestive diseases, intestinal failure, irritable bowel syndrome and other problems. In fact, dentists say that sometimes the first signs of a disease may show out in your mouth. So if you’ve been skipping on your daily brushing and flossing routine thinking nothing of it, think again.

Leading Dental Practitioner Dr. Suchetan Pradhan explains the need for oral hygiene. “The mouth is not an island and does not survive in isolation. For years, doctors have suspected link between infections of the mouth and chronic diseases in other parts of the body. All recent research seems to suggest that this connection is very much present,” he says. Dr Pradhan adds that the bacteria around the teeth as well as the inflammation around the bacteria in the mouths are the agents of the disease process in the body.

“Further bleeding gums, sore mouth and extensive gum disease all have the potential to complicate existing chronic diseases. This happens because the bacteria surrounding the teeth enter into blood stream and create havoc with the system.”   The role of genetics in gum diseases cannot be understated either. Indians as a race suffer more from gum disease than from dental decay. Genetics, environmental factors play a large part in this process. The need for constant dental checkups would go a long way   in preventing this.

Dr. Madhavi Mehta, dentist, says any disease process in the mouth such as infected gums, the presence of plaque, can make existing diseases such as diabetes, cardiac diseases and Alzheimer’s worse. “The inflammatory process also complicates Crohns disease, Ulcerative colitis and Arthritis. Good oral hygiene, impeccable brushing and flossis one way to prevent this from occurring. The incidence of gum disease is extremely high in India as a result of which dental supervision, regular professional cleaning and polishing, should be incorporated in one’s routine,” says Dr. Mehta. She states that bleeding gums should not be ignored either. The moment it is diagnosed; they should be treated with some degree of urgency. Regular brushing, flossing and mouth rinsing should be an integral part of one’s daily routine and children should be taught the same from an early age.


Diabetes: patients with diabetes have an already compromised immune system. The ingress of bacteria into the blood stream and additionally the effects of inflammation, further compromise the immune system. Additionally, it has the potential to cause a further increase in the blood sugar.

Cardiovascular Diseases: Bacteria in the blood stream can attach itself to the walls of blood vessels as plaques worsening existing cardiac diseases. Also research has shown that people with gum disease have one and a half times greater risk of a fatal cardiovascular disease.

Respiratory Track Disease: The presence of the bacteria in the gums and throat has the potential to lodge in the lower respiratory tract and lead to disease in immuno-compromised patients.

Pregnancy: A link between pre-term and low-birth weight babies has now been established. Mothers with gum diseases have a seven times greater risk of pre-term babies.

Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes that women undergo like puberty, menstruation and menopause causes altered levels of hormones in the blood stream. This sensitizes the gums to the effects of bacteria, making them soft, spongy and more prone to bleeding. Additionally, bone loss as in osteoporosis causes gum diseases to spread rapidly leading to loss of teeth.

Source – Bombay Times – 21-02-2010

Beyond the Smile