Your oral health has a major effect on your overall health. Everything you do to your body will inevitably have an effect on your oral health and, sooner or later, on your health overall. Gum disease, for instance, has been linked to a raft of ailments including pneumonia, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and exacerbated diabetes symptoms. It’s why brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily and seeing your dentist on a regular basis are so important. But that’s not where the story ends.
Smoking, drinking, prescribed and non-prescribed medications, illicit drug use, tongue and lip piercing, and stress, all have a significant effect on how healthy your teeth and gums are, and hence, how healthy you are overall.
The most obvious effect of smoking is the staining and discolouration of teeth, caused by the nicotine and tar in cigarettes.
Smoking has also been linked to a decrease of blood flow to the teeth and gums, bone shrinkage, teeth loss, and an inhibiting of the production of the right kind of saliva, a serious problem given how crucial a role it plays in protecting your teeth from decay.
By far, the most dramatic effect of prolonged tobacco use, however, is oral cancer, which is 9 times likely to occur in smokers than non-smokers.
If you also drink a lot of alcohol, then you’re risk of developing cancer of mouth, throat, tongue, lips and salivary glands is even further increased.
Anyone who drinks regularly or to excess should be concerned about the increased risk of developing oral cancer. But, there's much more to worry about it:
The sugar and acidity of alcohol are major contributors to teeth erosion, as is the acid reflux which accompanies vomiting, an all too common consequence of a night of heavy drinking.
Compounding the damage is the fact that many people stumble home and go straight to sleep after a big night out, only brushing their teeth the next morning, leaving their mouth unprotected from erosion and decay all night.
Alcohol also dehydrates you, which affects how much saliva your mouth produces, and hence, how much protection your teeth are given.
Drinking lots of water both when you’re out partying, and the next day when you’re recovering is one way to remedy the effects of excessive alcohol consumption, as is limiting the number of soft drinks you consume.
Using drugs can lead to tooth grinding, dry mouth (lack of saliva), gum disease and rapid tooth decay.
Their use is also often accompanied by binge eating all sorts of unhealthy foods, particularly ones high in sugar, the corrosive effects of which are made even worse by the accompanying neglect of basic personal and oral hygiene.
Oral piercings, because they rupture your mouth’s protective layer of skin, let a lot of bacteria in, leading to swelling and infection, which can affect the body far beyond your mouth.
Plus all that hard metal constantly banging against your teeth can crack your teeth, or at the very least, lead to excessive wear and tear and more pronounced problems later on.
Too much stress can lead to all kinds of problems with your mouth, teeth and gums.
You can end up with mouth ulcers and cold sores, grinding and clenching of teeth which you may not even notice taking place, and at worst, temporomandibular disorders (TMJD), a painful condition affecting the hinge that connects your jaw to your skull.
Stress can also lead you to neglect even the most basic of habits such as healthy eating and brushing and flossing your teeth.