Healthy mouth, healthy life years
Mouth inflammation can lead to serious diseases. As you get older, you should look after your teeth more carefully, but maintaining good oral health is also rewarding. Who would not like to have more healthy life years?
Quitting smoking has been shown to increase your life expectancy. A healthy diet and regular exercise also ensure that you live longer. What about cleaning your teeth and interdental spaces carefully?
Thomas Perls, a Professor of Medicine at Boston University, has developed the Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator that can be used to estimate your life expectancy according to your lifestyle and health status. According to Perls’ model, cleaning your interdental spaces regularly can make you live one year longer.
Erkki Virta, a dentist and Senior Advisor of Oral Health at Mehiläinen, says that it is impossible to say for sure how much an individual factor determines the life expectancy of a person. When it comes to health, everything is interlinked. Nevertheless, it is clear that keeping your teeth and mucous membranes in good condition has an impact on your life expectancy and health.
“Good oral health protects you from diseases and improves your life expectancy. Periodontitis, for example, is an underlying condition behind various serious diseases,” says Virta.
Periodontitis, a gum disease that damages the soft tissue and increases the risk of heart attack, cerebral infarction and atherosclerosis and interrupts the balance of diabetes treatment. According to some studies, periodontitis is even linked with cancer, rheumatic diseases and memory disorders.
The effect of the condition can also be very straightforward. Oral inflammation can cause death through sepsis.
Oral health becomes more significant with age
Health issues are dealt with by a doctor and dentists are responsible for tooth pain – at least according to conventional thinking. Erkki Virta believes that the link between oral and overall health is not completely understood as they have been treated as separate disciplines.
“The mouth has a very dense network of blood vessels. Consequently, any inflammation in the mouth can release an enormous amount of bacteria and pathogens to the circulatory system and the entire body. Oral inflammation can expose us to dangers that are not even fully understood yet,” says Virta.
The effect of oral health on the body becomes more significant with age. Many older people have diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases that make periodontitis especially dangerous.
“More attention should be paid to looking after your teeth as you get older, as the mouth becomes drier and cavities develop more easily with age,” says Virta.
Periodontitis has a major impact on the body
According to Virta, serious research on periodontitis has only been conducted for 10–15 years, whereas the health effects of smoking have been the focus of attention for decades. The information about hazards of periodontitis regarding life expectancy is relatively new and not nearly all the effects of the disease are yet known.
Treating periodontitis requires perseverance and determination. It can also be a condition that has been active for a long period of time without any symptoms. The effects of the condition on the body are often more severe than the consequences of an inflamed tooth, for example.
“If a tooth is inflamed and it is extracted, the inflammation goes away. Periodontitis, on the other hand, requires long-term treatment, constant monitoring and good home care,” says Virta.
Periodontitis is treated by cleaning the teeth and gingival pockets thoroughly and removing tartar. Pharmacotherapy and surgery can also be applied, if necessary.
Take good care of your teeth
An increasing number of old people in Finland still have their own teeth instead of implants. Looking after them requires special attention. Here’s how to do it:
1. Clean your teeth and interdental spaces and maintain regular meal times. Your mouth becomes drier and cavities develop more easily as you age and as a result of certain medications.
2. Visit a dentist annually. You are more likely to have several fillings in your teeth as you get older, and new cavities can develop easily in the seams of these fillings.
3. Visit a dental hygienist to check how well you look after your teeth. Are you sure you can clean all the interdental spaces? Bring your toothbrush to the dental hygienist in order to practise your technique. It is possible to brush your teeth inefficiently with an electric toothbrush as well.
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