While many of us are concerned about how exposure to loud noises can affect our hearing health, it turns out that we’ve been ignoring a critical aspect of hearing loss for far too long – our mouths. When we slack off on brushing and flossing our teeth, we start to develop harmful bacteria in our mouths – the bad news is that these bacteria are linked to hearing loss. That’s because the bacteria eventually move into our bloodstreams where they can cause inflammation and the narrowing of arteries responsible for the health and functioning of your ears and brain!
Ear Health And Hearing
To understand why bacteria in the bloodstream can affect our hearing, we first need to learn a bit about how our hearing works. Our ability to hear is dependent, at least partially, on the proper functioning of tiny sensory organs inside our ears. After the outer ear collects sounds from the outside world, the noise funnels into our inner ears, where it stimulates a collection of hair cells known as stereocilia. Ultimately, these tiny hair cells translate sound waves’ vibrations into the electrical impulses that our brains recognize as different sounds.
When they function properly, these cells allow us to enjoy all the sounds of life, from the soothing chirp of birds on a fine summer morning to the headache-inducing noise of a jackhammer in a construction site. But, these hair cells are at risk of permanent damage from a variety of environmental and physiological factors, such as excessive noise, medication side-effects, and poor circulation to the ear. The bad news is that once these cells are damaged, there’s no going back – hearing loss at this level is permanent.
But What Does Oral Health Have To Do With My Hearing?
Although aging processes that naturally contribute to the onset of hearing loss are unfortunately unavoidable, there are many factors, such as poor dental hygiene, that are certainly within our control. But what exactly is the connection between hearing and oral health?
Since our ability to hear relies on a steady, oxygen-rich supply of blood to sensory organs in our ears, such as the cochlea, good circulation is vital to hearing health. Recent studies acknowledge that poor dental health can lead to poor circulation. Moreover, diseases of poor oral health, such as periodontal disease, are linked to increased rates of heart disease and cardiac arrest. If that wasn’t worrisome enough, oral bacteria, when they spread beyond the mouth, are known to cause multi-system and whole-body inflammation, which can eventually lead to blood clots and poor circulation. None of this bodes well for hearing health, either, as the blood vessels feeding the ear are quite sensitive to these changes.
Maintaining Oral Health
Luckily, there are a number of things we can do to be proactive about our hearing health:
- See a dental health professional regularly (every 6-12 months, or whatever is recommended) for cleaning and check-ups. Regular dental visits will help ensure that your teeth are cleaned to a professional standard and can help spot potential problems before they worsen.
- Give your teeth a proper brushing at least twice a day. What we tell our kids and what we were told as kids still rings true as adults – brushing twice a day for at least two minutes each time will help get the disease-causing bacteria out of our mouths.
- Floss properly at least once a day, but twice a day is even better. Since brushing really only gives our teeth a surface clean, we need floss to get in between those pearly whites and remove any leftover bacteria.
- Change your toothbrush every 3-4 months to prevent bacteria growth. Fortunately, dental professionals usually give out toothbrushes at every visit (yet another incentive to schedule your next appointment!). But, you’ll want to make sure you switch out your old brush for a new one to keep things fresh.
The human body functions as the result of interconnected systems. As we’ve seen, oral and hearing health are closely linked, so hearing healthcare starts with keeping those teeth and gums happy. Taking appropriate steps toward oral health, like the ones outlined above, can help maintain hearing health for years to come.
However, if you’re concerned about your oral or hearing health, don’t wait to seek help. Contact your dental and hearing healthcare professionals to discuss options that are right for your needs.