If you thought that bad oral health only affects the teeth, then you’re wrong —scientists established a link between oral diseases and the rest of the body.
A healthy mouth and a healthy body go hand in hand. It’s important to understand the close relationship between oral health and general health, and the impact that one has on the other.
Oral diseases take many forms, with the most common being tooth decay and gum disease. If not properly managed, they can negatively impact the rest of the body; which is why oral health is essential to general health and well-being at every stage of life, scientists say.
For example, oral diseases are linked with diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and some cancers; while having diabetes increases the risk of getting gum disease.
Adelaide Muhiganwa, a dental surgeon at Legacy Clinic and a representative of Dental Surgeons Association in Rwanda, says keeping the mouth clean is a way to prevent the body from other forms of non-communicable diseases.
Muhiganwa says most people think dental diseases don’t kill, but they ‘slowly’ do.
“Dental diseases themselves don’t kill, but their complications do. Among these complications are non-communicable diseases which are much more dangerous,” she says.
Muhiganwa says the mouth is a good environment for many microbes compared to other parts of the body.
These germs are responsible for causing various dental diseases like dental decay, gum disease and dental caries, among others.
“Besides, these microbes reach nerves and veins which link the teeth to various parts of the body, then start navigating the whole body,” she says.
“They can reach the heart, lungs, brain, kidney and other various organs, then start to attack them,” she adds.
Agnes Gatarayiha, vice representative of School of Oral Health at University of Rwanda, says microbes are capable of transforming the rest of the food in the mouth into sugar, which can be a cause of diabetes.
“Let’s look at dental caries for example, they are microbes which attack teeth, especially when someone has eaten sweet foods and they don’t brush the teeth. These microbes in the mouth can produce a lot of sugar from the rest of the food, and it enters the blood through the veins, which can increase blood sugar level,” she explains.
Likewise, when the sugar in the blood increases for diabetic people, it passes through teeth veins and can cause dental diseases, especially when they don’t take care of the mouth, she says.
Moreover, when the teeth are sick, someone can’t eat well. If someone doesn’t eat well, there is a nutrition gap in their body which most of the times causes failure of body immunity, Gatarayiha adds.
The most common dental diseases in Rwanda are dental holes and gum diseases.
Christine Mwezi, a representative of Rwanda Dental Association, says a person should effectively wash their mouth after every meal.
“It’s not good that a person sleeps with food in the mouth. We are trying to change this mindset,” she says.
Many people wonder when to start brushing a child’s teeth. Mwezi says that at six months, some babies get their first teeth, so parents should start then.
“They drink milk; they eat fruits, meaning that all these foods stick in their teeth and can be a cause of various oral diseases. Even if it’s not easy to find brushes for these little kids, we teach parents on how to use the clean part of a cloth,” she says.
Muhigana says that people have to understand that they must prevent diseases instead of waiting for the treatment.
“If people manage to maintain their teeth, they will avoid non-communicable diseases,” he says.
Muhiganwa adds that if there is no hygiene in the mouth, it means that bacteria are being multiplied; therefore, they must wash the teeth effectively, with the right toothpaste.
“Most people wash their teeth when they get up, and eat their breakfast and then rush to work. It’s not right because every person has to wash teeth after eating. If it’s not the case, it’s an opportunity for microbes to work hard and excavate the teeth the whole day, then reach the nerves,” Muhiganwa says.
At least once a year, a person should go for a dental check-up, instead of waiting for the treatment after getting sick.
After cleaning the teeth with a toothbrush, it’s recommended to use dental floss, a type of cord which helps to clean the tiny space between the teeth.
People who smoke cigarettes are likely to develop dental diseases and other complications more than others, she says.
Tobacco has a substance called nicotine which makes the teeth turn black. They are likely to have oral cancers and that’s why they have to be more careful about mouth hygiene,” she suggests.
Gatarayiha says it’s possible to take care of the teeth even after getting sick, but prevention is always better.
“There are many ways to treat dental diseases. Nowadays, we focus more on restoring their health than removing them,” she says.
However, when teeth have been removed, there is a way to replace them with prosthesis, but it’s very expensive, she says.
“Prosthesis is very expensive. One unit costs at least Rwf80,000 and most of the times insurance companies don’t pay for it. People should take preventive measures which is cheaper than treatment,” she adds.
Gatarayiha says that in Rwanda, there are 420 dental therapists and 20 surgeons operating from district private hospitals, as well as in 15 health centres, while 60 per cent of outpatients go to the health facilities for dental diseases.