Gum disease: Dentist explains how you can prevent it
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The mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria, most of which are harmless so long as they don’t enter the bloodstream. When microbes do cross into the blood and enter the heart, vulnerable valves can contract an infection. Unfortunately, certain practices aimed at improving oral health can have deadly repercussions on the heart.
Tongue scraping is a widely adopted practice aimed at removing harmful bacteria that inflame the gums.
The Emerging Infectious Diseases journal explained: “Tongue scraping is advocated as a therapy for managing halitosis and as a technique for preventing dental caries by reducing bacterial counts in the mouth.
“The practice has been in existence for centuries.”
When tongue scraping and other oral hygiene practices are ignored, they can pave the way for severe health complications like heart disease and cancer.
Oral hygiene practices may warrant some level of caution too, however, as they may also provide a gateway for infection.
In 2007, the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal reported on the case of a 59-year-old who suffered an onset of progressive malaise, fever, sweats, myalgia and headaches.
“Two months previously she had begun cleaning her tongue with a plastic tongue scraper purchased at her local pharmacy,” the report noted.
When seen at her local hospital, the patient reported severe headache and myalgia, with fever, and had a history of abnormal cardiac valves.
Doctors proposed that a bacterium from tongue scraping most likely caused the patient’s endocarditis.
“The link between oral flora and endocarditis has long been recognised. […] There are numerous reports of endocarditis after tongue piercing,” they noted.
Interestingly, bacteria caused by routine tooth brushing do not appear to be clinically important in the development of endocarditis.
This could be because the bacterium entering the bloodstream with brushing may be smaller than that with more extreme practices like tooth extraction.
“Persons with abnormal cardiac valves and intravascular devices such as pacemakers may be at particular risk,” explained the authors.
They added: “Patients with previous infective endocarditis and high-risk cardiac valve defects should be informed that tongue scraper use is not prudent.”
According to the NHS, endocarditis is a rare and “potentially fatal infection” of the inner lining of the heart.
The health body adds: “It’s most commonly caused by bacteria entering the blood and travelling to the heart.”
It may result from tongue scraping if a person applies too much pressure on the scrape and causes bleeding, which can allow bacteria into the bloodstream.
Another hidden and less serious risk associated with tongue scraping is pressing too hard and causing damage to taste buds over time.
However, all oral hygiene practices are encouraged, as the bacteria that infect the gums in gum disease can travel to blood vessels elsewhere in the body and cause other types of collateral damage.
Sometimes it spurs inflammation in the blood vessels, which leads to the formation of blood clots, heart attack and stroke.
Safe oral hygiene practices like interdental cleaning before brushing can help loosen bacteria and food debris in between the teeth.
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