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Poor dental health causes more than hole in tooth

By Flavia Nassaka

Experts say your oral health affects the condition of your heart

From our science classes in primary school, we are fully aware that for good oral health, one has to brush their teeth every after a meal. This seems impractical to many, especially for people who eat away from home. But failure to maintain oral hygiene, experts say, has millions of Ugandans suffering tooth loss due to decay and gum disease.

Globally, tooth loss and gum disease is the sixth most prevalent chronic condition, affecting 743 million people, according to the World Health Organisation.


Dr. William Nganwa, a dental surgeon, says most of these dental infections are a result of poor hygiene which usually starts as gum disease and usually develops in areas that you are not keeping clean.

“The misconception with oral care habits is that brushing is enough, when in fact brushing alone leaves more than half of the germs in your mouth since many forget to clean between teeth, tongue and floor of the mouth”, says Dr. Catherine Kabenge a dentistry expert at the Mulago National Referral and Teaching Hospital in Kampala.

Heart Disease Risk

Nganwa says while brushing is important, flossing helps get rid of plaque, the bacterial film that forms between teeth and gum line together with food. “Doing so daily prevents gum disease and tooth loss. Everyone gets plaque, and it can only be removed by flossing or a deep cleaning from your dentist,” he says.

Medics explain that certain bacteria normally occur in the mouth, but if one is not properly flossing or brushing to remove plaque, the risk for gum disease increases. Once gum disease has developed, an environment for bacteria that does not normally grow in the mouth is created and it moves to the blood stream setting up an inflammatory process in the blood vessels.

According to Kabenge, “The bacteria increases your risk for heart disease by contributing to the formation of clots or further plaque build-up in the arteries that can interfere with blood flow to the heart leading to an attack”.

She says 70% of the people get tooth problems as they age because for some people at this age, the gum starts pulling away from the teeth letting in bacteria for those who do not thoroughly clean. Eventually tissue that supports the teeth starts breaking away.

“As you lose tissue, your teeth gets continuously looser and eventually they fall out,” she says adding that oral health affects the whole body’s health. She cites studies which have found people with gum disease to be more likely to get heart disease and to be less able to control their blood sugar.

Diabetics, in particular, need to pay special attention because this ailment puts them at risk for dental problems as it impairs the ability to fight bacteria in the mouth. Having high blood sugar encourages bacteria to grow and contributes to gum disease. Keeping one’s mouth healthy can help in managing blood sugar.

Dental Hygiene tips

In order to solve these problems, the doctors advise that one should be keen on the risk factors such as hygiene and smoking and also consider the following tips:

People should visit a dentist if they notice swelling or pus around the tooth, or if they have a fever as this could be a sign of an abscess, a more serious problem that can be corrected by antibiotics and possibly a root canal.   “The dentist will also look at other causes of plaque, like loose fillings or crown.  If the disease is severe, or doesn’t get better over time, you might need surgery,” Dr. Nganwa explains.

You should get dental checkups at least twice a year. Let your dentist know if you have conditions like diabetes and the medication you are on. Routine checkups and professional cleanings can help keep a mouth healthy.

Foods such as candies, sugary soft drinks, dried fruits, coffee for it stains the teeth, alcohol because it causes natural saliva to decrease, acidic foods such as citrus, starchy food for it easily gets trapped within the teeth contribute to the wear and tear of the teeth. Upon eating such foods, doctors recommend immediate clean up whereas they encourage eating sugar cane and sugarless chewing gum to remove food that becomes stuck to your teeth and they also increase saliva flow that neutralizes mouth acids.

Experts urge us to be keen on any of these symptoms for they could be warning signs of serious tooth disease which can be countered with early treatment.

Sour taste in the mouth

Persistent bad breath

Swollen, tender gums

Loose teeth

Sensitive teeth

Pain when chewing

Bleeding gums

Change in the color of the gum

A painless rash on the gum

Change in tooth color.

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