The Harmful Effects of Poor Oral Health on Your Quality of Life
Every person deserves a good life. How that life is defined is wonderfully unique to each person, just as it should be. Thrill seekers, star chasers, the dreamers, and the workaholics, each one of us deserves to lead a life that is fulfilling and filled with love.
And good health is essential to that.
Health is the most valuable commodity there is in life - and many of us struggle with it in one way or another. Some challenges are loud, and others quiet. These quiet, deliberate challenges can be hard to identify and even more difficult to overcome. If you have struggled with oral health, you most likely feel like you belong to this hidden group of individuals.
Each of us lives a complex life that relies heavily on our ability to work, interact, socialize, and support ourselves and the people around us. Yet, many with poor oral health feel shame about their condition and suffer quietly, or alone. For this reason, and many others, poor oral health can significantly impact your quality of life.
It’s more than just a smile
The oral cavity is a highly sensitive area in the body, with roughly 30%-40% of the body’s sensory and motor nerves2. Because of this, our lips are in fact more sensitive than our own fingertips. This collection of nerves can be surprisingly active during health issues in the mouth, causing significant discomfort even from seemingly small issues.
Teeth, gum, and mouth conditions can cause more than just extensive pain. The oral cavity is directly connected to our bloodstream, quickly allowing for chemical signals and nutrients to pass throughout the body. That often means that issues that start in the mouth rarely stay inside it. Repercussions of an oral health condition can move like tendrils of smoke through our entire system, interacting with other areas and causing further disruptions.
What may start as a toothache could in fact be influencing your brain function, altering your immune system, or even interfering with your cardiovascular system.
With this in mind, poor oral health may start as a quiet concern but can suddenly become disruptive to daily life - even harming it.
1. Poor oral health can keep you at home
Even some of the most subtle issues can leave us staying home more than ever. The quality of a smile is often associated with friendliness and attractiveness. Many who struggle with oral health may find it easier to avoid social gatherings rather than risk a negative first impression. Missing teeth, tooth decay, or inflamed gums can often cause feelings of inadequacy and shame. In fact, some studies have shown a direct correlation between health issues stemming from the mouth (such as decayed, missing, or filled teeth, and risk of gingivitis) and mental health. One such study found that more than 30% of participants with an oral health issue showed moderate-to-severe anxiety and nearly 60% with depression.1
These issues may cause self-isolation and make interacting and socializing more difficult, but they can also be a source of discomfort when communicating. With so many nerve bundles located in the oral cavity, oral pain from even some of the smallest issues can make it difficult to speak.
2. Poor oral health can keep you unwell
The mouth is often a gateway to the rest of the body. As we mentioned, what starts in the mouth rarely stays there. Many health issues in the oral cavity can cause damage or trauma to various parts of the mouth, activating the immune system. But if the source of the damage is not resolved, chronic issues can occur and generate an overactive immune response.
These damaged areas also open up our bloodstream to the microbes that live in the mouth and allow them to travel to other sites they don’t belong. Our immune system must then compensate to help tackle these microbes which often leave us more susceptible to other infections.
3. Poor oral health can make you malnourished
What else is the number one responsibility of the mouth, other than to bring energy and nourishment into the body? The purpose of our oral cavity is to stimulate digestion, break down food, and introduce both nutrients - and microbes - essential to our health.
Problems with the teeth can make chewing difficult. Inflammation of the gums and mouth can make swallowing painful. Damage and trauma to our mouth lining can allow toxins to slip into our bloodstream. And all of this can heavily influence what types of foods - as well as their nutrient density - that we consume.
People struggling with pain and discomfort are likely to avoid fibrous fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins, and other nutrient-rich foods that require extensive chewing. For many with severe oral conditions, malnutrition is a serious concern. Many of these foods support oral health or provide nutrients essential for healing. This is true for all ages, but particularly so for aging populations. Some studies have shown that dental and oral health may be the leading cause of sarcopenia and malnutrition in elderly adults.3
How can I protect my quality of life from poor oral health?
The best line of defense for those experiencing issues as well as those looking to be proactive, is often the same - schedule an appointment with your dentist. It may seem obvious, however, a recent study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that more than 35% of adults in the United States haven’t been to a dentist in the last year.4
Managing and overcoming oral health challenges can be done - and you’re certainly not alone. It’s likely someone you know is in a similar situation. Just a simple Google search can open your eyes to just how prevalent these issues are. And they’re continuing to grow.
After decades of poor nutrition practices, availability of processed and sugary foods, continual changes to our environment, limited knowledge of oral care, and socioeconomic influences reducing access to oral hygiene products - it’s no wonder oral health problems are continuing to spike across the globe. But we’re at the cusp of a massive breakthrough in preventative action with oral health.
Now, science has opened new windows into the biological phenomena that contribute to oral health. Changes to technology are expanding our ability to provide individualized insights into a single person’s oral health. And with each breakthrough, we get closer to transforming reactive oral health ‘care’ to proactive maintenance for a healthy mouth no matter your age.
1 Mohammadi, T. M., Sabouri, A., Sabouri, S., & Najafipour, H. (2019). Anxiety, depression, and oral health: A population-based study in Southeast of Iran. Dental research journal, 16(3), 139–144.
2 Ehrlich, S. (2022b, October 14). The mouth and the nervous system. Sydney Holistic Dental Centre. shdc.com.au
3 Azzolino, D., Passarelli, P. C., De Angelis, P., Piccirillo, G. B., D'Addona, A., & Cesari, M. (2019). Poor Oral Health as a Determinant of Malnutrition and Sarcopenia. Nutrients, 11(12), 2898.
3 FastStats. (n.d.). Oral and Dental Health .cdc.gov