Did you know that your oral health can offer clues about your overall health – or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? It is time you understand the intimate connection between oral health and overall health and what you can do to protect yourself.
Most of us have loved ones that have been tragically affected by cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes among other prevalent diseases. With more and more studies on associated conditions, significant connections between diseases are discovered and understood. Years ago, a doctor who suspected heart disease would probably not refer the patient to a dentist. The same went for diabetes, pregnancy, or just about any other medical condition. But in the past decade, we have seen an increasing interest in possible links between oral health and general health.
HEALTHY SMILE, HEALTHY YOU
While it is recognized that oral health and general health are inseparable, it’s still common to ignore signs and symptoms of oral disease and dysfunction. But oral health is integral to your general health and you cannot be fully healthy without a healthy mouth.
Your mouth is the center of communication and contact. Along with the eyes, ears, and nose, your mouth is positioned near the brain, ensuring close integration and coordination. In this area, we also house the organs of taste, vision, hearing, and smell, enabling us to experience and interact with the world around us. We speak, taste, chew and swallow. We express our feelings through smiles and frowns; we yell and we cry; we whisper sweet nothings and kiss our loved ones.
Dentists have known that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body for years and it seems the rest of the world has finally caught on to this fact. Studies are popping up on the evening news, and The American Academy of Periodontics has pioneered the way in showing a correlation between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease among other conditions. We now see early diagnosis of everything from acid reflux to diabetes based on oral conditions. And with all of this available knowledge, we can no longer ignore the crucial role dentists play in patients’ overall health.
The body and mouth connection: How diseases and oral health are linked
Although you probably understand that poor dental care can lead to cavities, did you know that other, more serious health problems could also result from poor oral care? The truth is that if you don’t take proper care of your teeth, you could face far more serious consequences than a simple toothache or some unsightly stains.
Recent science suggests one of the main drivers of heart attack and stroke, premature aging, and many other diseases, is systemic inflammation. Having knowledge about which conditions in and around the mouth that contribute to the cumulative inflammatory burden on our body is very important.
Did you know that heart disease and oral health are linked? Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause. There are two different connections between heart disease and your oral health:
- Studies have shown that people with moderate or advanced gum (periodontal) disease are more likely to have heart disease than those with healthy gums.
- Oral health holds clues to overall health. Studies have shown that oral health can provide warning signs for other diseases or conditions, including heart disease.
The bacteria from inflammation of the gums and periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart and cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Atherosclerosis causes plaque to develop on the inner walls of arteries which thicken and this can decrease or block blood flow through the body. This can cause an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. The inner lining of the heart can also become infected and inflamed condition known as endocarditis.
Inflammation of the gum tissue and periodontal disease can make it harder to control your blood sugar and make your diabetes symptoms worse. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels. Conversely, diabetes sufferers are also more susceptible to periodontal disease. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk.
Other medical conditions
Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
- Cancer: Individuals with chronic periodontal disease (gum disease) had a higher occurrence of breast cancer and prostate cancer. In fact, you may be 11 times more likely to develop breast cancer if you have poor oral health or gum disease according to Journal of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: The bacteria from gingivitis may enter the brain through either nerve channels in the head or through the bloodstream that might even lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Tooth loss before the age of 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Pregnancy and birth:Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
- Respiratory infections: The Journal of Periodontology warns that gum disease could cause you to get infections in your lungs, including pneumonia. While the connection might not be completely obvious at first, think of what might happen from breathing in bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period of time.
- Effects of dental care on education: A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2012 found that poor oral health, dental disease, and tooth pain can all affect how a child does in school, adding academic performance to the list of things that can be impacted by dental health.
We strive to provide our patients with more than just oral care. We go above and beyond what the traditional primary care practice offers. Our holistic, proactive approach to oral care addresses your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.