Early humans are believed to have been sexually attracted to certain features in their mates: strong bones, facial symmetry, the right smell and good teeth. Why? For both the male and the female, those were signs of good health, an ability to bear or father and raise children, the evolutionary imperative.
Those same factors today affect dating as well as how we’re perceived in the workplace. Some things really don’t change.
We can’t be certain about the evolutionary importance of hair, however. A recent DNA analysis of 4,000-year-old hair found in Greenland permafrost indicates the male “had brown eyes and thick dark hair, although he would have been prone to hair loss,” reported the BBC News.
Factors of oral health are not lost on the modern practice of dentistry. An explosion of techniques and products in recent years has taken dental health from fending off toothaches to where perfect teeth are a leg up in the marketplaces of love and commerce. It might be ancient evolutionary instincts that drive this, but modern scientific research is delving into the details of what every cave person knew tens of thousands of years ago: A good mouth generally connotes good health.
With dental health, correlation is not causation
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dentists have long known there is a strong relationship between oral health and health throughout the rest of the body. As professionals, dentists are now held liable in many states for identifying oral cancer — even though few patients visit a dentist for that diagnostic. And the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the ADA Research Institute, and the ADA Health Foundation’s Paffenbarger Research Center are all looking into the correlation between oral health problems and overall (systemic) health issues. Correlating conditions under study include heart disease, stroke, uncontrolled diabetes, respiratory disease, and pre-term deliveries of underweight babies.
But just because two things happen together does not mean one is the cause of the other. Diabetics, for example, tend to get a more aggressive version of periodontitis, common gum infection, and degeneration. When they do, their blood sugar tends to be elevated. Some studies suggest that controlling the dental problem seems to control the blood sugar too; however, research results are thus far inconclusive.
Some things about oral health we know for sure
The mouth is the place for infections: Endodontal and periodontal infections of the mouth can harbor up to 500 species of microflora (bacteria), which if introduced to the bloodstream can cause bacteremia, leading to systemic infections. These include subacute infective endocarditis, acute bacterial myocarditis, brain abscess, cavernous sinus thrombosis, sinusitis, lung abscess/infection, Ludwig’s angina, orbital cellulitis, skin ulcer, osteomyelitis, prosthetic joint infection, cerebral infarction, acute myocardial infarction, abnormal pregnancy outcome, persistent pyrexia, idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia, toxic shock syndrome, systemic granulocytic cell defects, chronic meningitis, Behçet’s syndrome, chronic urticaria, uveitis, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.
Note that each of these can be an infection received by other means and that a healthy immune system prevents almost all such conditions from happening. Most often, it is when a previous infection (such as HIV) is present or medical treatment (such as chemotherapy) is employed that these conditions occur.
The mouth reflects problems elsewhere: Mouth lesions and other oral conditions may be the first sign of HIV infection, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Also, saliva can be used to detect antibodies for hepatitis A and B,Helicobacter pylori and HIV, as well as to monitor or diagnose diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and alcoholic cirrhosis.
Take care of your teeth and gums: Until research tells us for certain, “Oral bacteria in excess causes X,” we can only go with conventional wisdom — that a healthy mouth allows for a healthy body.
So floss and brush at least once a day — it’s important but not limited to health. A fresh, attractive mouth might help you get a date or land a job.