Healthy teeth and gums lead to greater overall wellbeing. Here’s why you should never brush off the benefits of dental care
When we talk about dental health, the focus tends to be on the whiteness of our teeth, and the straightness of them, as well as whether we have bad breath and the state of our gums. What’s rarely mentioned, however, is that dental care – like so many of life’s more mundane necessities, like sleeping or drinking a glass of tap water – is absolutely imperative to your survival. It’s not just about presenting that million-dollar TOWIE smile to the world, it’s about fending off numerous ailments, maintaining fully functioning guts, and preventing future mental illness.
‘The mouth as a whole is a great barometer for your overall health,’ says Dr David Le Tocq, an Oxford-based dental practitioner ‘Whether it’s the state of your teeth or your gums, or whether you have dietary deficiencies, it’s right there. You’ll find oral manifestations of a lot of conditions.’
Oral health and dementia
Among these, according to comprehensive studies from Japan (Kyushu University) and Norway (University of Bergen) are dementia and Alzheimer’s. Findings from the Japanese study suggest that your chances of developing dementia are inversely proportional to the number of teeth you have – in other words, fewer teeth, more chance. In the Norwegian study, meanwhile, they found a link between gingivitis (gum disease) and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that the same bacteria that cause gingivitis could move from the mouth to the brain, where they produce a protein that can destroy nerve cells, leading to severe memory loss and, ultimately, Alzheimer’s.
In general terms, this makes sense – if you live an unhealthy lifestyle, often epitomised by bad oral health, your overall health will suffer. But the importance of your teeth can’t be understated. It’s been proven that mouth bacteria can affect heart and lung health, and cause serious digestive issues. Then there’s your mental health to take into account.
Clean teeth and confidence
‘Anecdotally, there’s a clear link between the aesthetic quality of your teeth and common psychological states like self-esteem and confidence,’ says Dr Charlotte Hilton, a chartered psychologist. ‘And there’s a wealth of research now about body image and men, and how if you don’t fit a specific profile, for some people it can impact your wellbeing.’
Certainly, research by private healthcare provider Oasis Dental Care in 2012 would suggest this to be true. Their study found plummeting self-esteem among people with poor oral health: 39% wouldn’t smile for fear of exposing what lurked inside their mouth, 15% were depressed, and 3% wouldn’t even leave the house because of their teeth.
The pressure for perfection
‘With the rise of social media, we’ve also seen a rise in the perception that your teeth have to be brilliantly white,’ says Le Tocq. ‘[Cosmetic teeth whitening] is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s carried out under professional supervision. The main concern is the availability of [DIY whitening treatments] on the internet, which may not only contain unlicensed products but may actually cause harm – anything from tooth hypersensitivity to chemical burns. The tooth-whitening business is very large and expectations are often very high, and this tends to fuel the “non-professional” trade.’
So, when our social feeds are demanding the perfect smile, how can we improve our teeth while avoiding future health concerns?
‘There are no teeth like your own teeth,’ says Le Tocq. ‘You need a sensible diet, you need to brush often but not too hard, and most importantly, you need to make regular dental care a lifetime habit. It’s so important, it really needs to be ingrained in us from an early age.’ So book that long overdue trip to the dentist today.
Words: Josh Burt. Photograph: iStock by Getty Images
For more expert health advice, see the latest issue of Healthy For Men, on sale now at Holland & Barrett stores or online at hollandandbarrett.com