It’s easy to think of oral health as a niche area of health, separate from your overall health. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, your oral health is so tightly tied to your overall health that some studies have even found that the health of your teeth can be directly correlated to the length of your lifespan.
Tooth Loss Could Predict Your Lifespan
One study found that the number of teeth you lose can indicate how many years you’ll live, and your quality of life. More specifically, the study shows that tooth loss is closely tied how much stress a person experiences in their life. Researchers defined “stress” by examining participants’ experiences socially, emotionally, and economically, as well as taking into account health issues, education, nutrition, and lifestyle choices.
The evidence showed that anyone who reaches the age of 74 with all of their teeth still intact is way more likely to live to 100 than those who have lost teeth by that point. People who had lost five or more teeth by the time they hit 65 years old had much higher risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
This is in many ways unsurprising, since gum disease, which is the most common cause of tooth loss in the United States, has also been linked to heart disease and diabetes. All of this is just further evidence of how closely tied oral health and overall health are.
These findings were confirmed from a slightly different perspective in another recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. This study showed that postmenopausal women were 12% more likely to die an early death if they had gum disease, and 17% more likely to die an early death if they had lost all their teeth.
Hang Onto Your Teeth With Good Oral Hygiene
So how can you keep your teeth — and your health? The answer is good oral hygiene. It may sound obvious, but studies show that more than 30% of Americans aren’t brushing their teeth as often as they should, and nearly a quarter of Americans have gone two or more days without brushing their teeth in the last year. Clearly, oral hygiene isn’t as ubiquitous as it should be, which explains why 178 million people in the United States are missing at least one tooth.
Good oral hygiene practices can fall into three categories: Brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist.
To brush effectively, you should be brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled brush and a fluoride toothpaste. The best way to brush is to make small circles along the gumline. If you’re spending less than two minutes brushing, you’re probably not hitting all your teeth, but if you’re spending more, you might be over brushing, which can damage your enamel.
You should also be flossing at least once a day, and don’t be afraid to throw in an extra flossing session if you’ve eaten something that you can feel sticking between your teeth, like popcorn. If you’re not flossing, you’re missing a huge amount of your teeth’s surface area, and opening your mouth up to decay and gum disease.
And of course, you can’t do it all yourself — some of the oral hygiene burden falls on your dentist. But they can’t shoulder that burden if you aren’t seeing them! Make sure you’re seeing your dentist for however many annual appointments they have recommended to you. This allows your dentist to provide thorough cleaning, check in on the overall state of your oral health, and even screen for oral cancer.