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A smile is a light in the window of the soul, they say, but what if your smile opens to rotting teeth, inflamed gums or bad breath? This is not uncommon for millions of people across the globe including the UAE who are guilty of ignoring oral hygiene.

Like many parts of the body, the mouth is teeming with bacteria. Most of them are harmless and the body’s natural defences and good oral healthcare keep them in check. However, without proper hygiene the bacteria can reach levels that may lead to oral infections such as tooth decay and gum diseases.

Some of the common oral problems are bad breath, dry mouth, canker or cold sores, tooth decay and thrush. “The most common complaint or tooth problems for patients attending Dental Services Department at DHA are tooth decay and gum disease,” says Dr Hamda Al Mesmar, Consultant and Director of Dental Services Department, Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

“Dental decay or dental caries is caused by bacteria, which produce acids that destroy the tooth structure. There are four components that interact to cause cavities, namely the tooth, sugars, bacteria and time. A number of factors can cause gum disease but poor oral hygiene is the most common cause.”

In line with the Dubai Health Strategy, the Dental Services Department is actively involved in improving oral health awareness among the community and schoolchildren. Most people don’t realise that oral health offers clues about overall health or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body.

Oral health might contribute to various diseases and conditions including
Endocarditis: Infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). This typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body such as your mouth spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
Cardiovascular disease: Some research suggests heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria cause.
Pregnancy and birth: Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
Diabetes: Reduces the body’s resistance to infection putting the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes.
Osteoporosis: Causes bones to become brittle and might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
Alzheimer’s disease: Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

Other conditions that may be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, head and neck cancers and Sjogren’s syndrome (an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth).

Because of these potential links it is important to tell your dentist if you’re taking any medications or have had any changes in your overall health especially if you have any condition such as diabetes.

What diabetics need to watch out for

People with poor blood sugar control get gum disease more often and severely. They lose more teeth than people with good diabetic control do.

As the oral cavity is normally home to a large number of bacteria, the absence of adequate blood flow in diabetics causes infection of the gums (gingivitis) and softens the tissue surrounding the teeth (periodontitis). In advanced stage, they lead to painful chewing problems and even tooth loss. Children with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus are also at risk for gum problems.

“A diabetic can damage their gums when the blood glucose levels are very high, thus causing the narrowing of the blood vessels leading to a decrease of blood flow to the gums,” says Dr Muhammad Hamed Farooqi, Director and Consultant Endocrinologist, Dubai Diabetes Centre. Frequent urination in diabetics also leads to a loss of water from the body and makes the mouth dry. Saliva washes away food and neutralises acids produced by bacteria, helping to protect you from microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease.

Good diabetic control is the best protection against periodontal disease. Dr Farooqi advises patients to set up routine visits to the dentist to discuss health concerns.