Healthy teeth make for a pretty smile, but did you know a healthy mouth also protects your hearing? While it might be difficult to understand how good oral health can prevent hearing loss, think of it this way: harmful bacteria that develops in your mouth as a result of bad oral health can enter your bloodstream and cause inflammation and narrowing of arteries and blood vessels – including those essential for hearing health in your ears and brain.
Here’s a quick look at how your hearing works. Your outer ear, also known as the pinna or auricle, collects sound and funnels it down the ear canal to the ear drum and then into the inner ear, where the sensory organ for hearing and balance are located. Once there, it stimulates a set of hair cells (stereocilia) which translates sound into electrical impulses and transmits them to the brain for interpretation via the auditory nerve.
These hair cells can be damaged by a variety of factors including poor circulation to the small blood vessels in the inner ear. Once they are damaged, they cannot be regenerated, and you develop hearing loss. While this occurs naturally as we age there are other factors, such as poor dental health, that can speed the process along.
Just like untreated hearing loss, poor dental health can also lead to dementia and memory loss. The narrowing and blocking of arteries that occurs with dental infections affects blood flow to the brain, which may also interfere with the way the brain receives sound signals from the auditory nerve. Results of a 2010 University of California study which followed 5,468 residents of a California retirement center for 18 years, found those who reported brushing their teeth daily were 65% less likely to develop dementia than those who did not. Researchers believe the brain damage occurs when gum bacteria travels to the brain through the bloodstream.
Bacteria from dental infections and periodontal disease can also lead to heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes. How does that affect your hearing? Research indicates those with circulatory-related diseases are also at risk for hearing loss.
Here’s the good news. Brushing your teeth and seeing your dentist regularly can significantly decrease your chances of developing hearing loss due to tooth infections and gum disease. Dental health professionals recommend a visit to the dentist every six months to have your teeth checked and cleaned, more frequently if you have oral disease, diabetes, or smoke. In between visits, brushing, flossing and using mouthwash can protect your oral health – and your hearing health, too.