Mounting scientific evidence suggests that poor dental hygiene points to much more than cavities and bad breath; it can cause a host of health complications.

“The whole body is connected, but for such a long time we’ve thought about the mouth as being a separate part of the body and that dentists work in isolation from the rest of the body,” admitted Dr Matthew Hopcraft, the Victorian president of the Australian Dental Association. “That clearly doesn’t make any sense anymore, anatomically or physiologically.” Read on to discover the surprising health conditions that can result from poor dental practices

1. Gum Disease Troubles Your Heart

People suffering from periodontitis, or advanced gum disease as it’s commonly known, are nearly twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as folks with healthy gums. A person with less than 10 teeth is also seven times more likely to succumb to coronary disease than someone with 25 teeth.Researchers at the University of Queensland believe that’s because harmful bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and attach to fatty plaques in the heart’s blood vessels. This can lead to inflammation and a greater risk of the clots which cause heart attacks and strokes. The blood vessels in swollen gums are more permeable than healthy gums, so oral bacteria are more likely to pass through them. Dentist visits can be pricy, as this NHS dental pricing breakdown infographic shows, but as cardiovascular disease is the most expensive illness in Australia, failing to attend regular dentist check-ups could be even more costly.

2. Poor Oral Health Could Cost Your Memory

Image via Flickr by Steven DepoloNeglect your dental health and you could lose more than a couple of teeth. It might even cost you your memory.Researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and Dentistry explored the link between dental health and memory loss by studying the health of 144 Catholic nuns aged between 75 and 98 years old. Their work found the nuns with between zero and nine teeth were more likely to have dementia than those with healthier mouths. Experts believe that if oral bacteria could reach the heart, it could also spread to the brain and contribute to the plaque growth linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

3. Bad Gum Health Linked to Cancer

There’s a host of studies showing links between poor oral health and cancers of the head, neck, and internal organs. Bad brushing habits, tooth decay, dental fillings, lost teeth, and periodontal disease all increase the risk of contracting these cancers. For example, people with gum disease have a 62 percent greater risk of developing kidney cancer and a 400 percent greater risk of contracting oral cancer.Scientists suggest that mouth infections lower the body’s immune system. This increases the risk of the cellular changes which can cause cancerous cells to develop.After the onset of these diseases, it’s believed that adopting good oral health habits can assist recovery. Alternative medicine expert Burton Goldberg claimed that, “As much as 50% in the reversal of cancer is in the mouth.”

4. Dental Hygiene Crucial for Pregnant Women

Good oral habits are essential for the entire population, but they’re especially important for pregnant women. Letting dental hygiene slip can harm both mother and baby.Approximately 18 percent of premature births are a result of gingivitis, which is the early stages of gum disease, according to Dr Ronald McCoy of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. This condition is thought to affect roughly seven out of ten expectant mothers. Let this ailment deteriorate, and there can be even more serious ramifications. The more severe gum condition of periodontitis can increase the risks of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.Dr McCoy says women should take care of oral health issues early in their pregnancy to minimise these risks, but Western Australian research suggests they should take action earlier than that. Women with gum disease typically take a little more than seven months to fall pregnant, two months more than the average. Studies also suggest women with gum disease are more likely to miscarry.So remember that brushing and flossing regularly isn’t simply about creating a pearly white smile. Taking care of your teeth and gums is vital for keeping your entire body healthy.

Words by Lauren Katulka

Author Bio: Lauren Katulka is a happily married freelance writer living on Australia’s Central Coast. When she’s not playing around with words she loves spending time in the kitchen, watching indie films and cuddling her Devon Rex cat, Gizmo.