Most people take their oral health for granted, failing to think about it until something goes wrong, such as a broken tooth or a toothache. Sure, you brush your teeth and floss, but you probably don’t think about the impact your oral health has on your overall health. You know good oral hygiene and routine dental visits are important for oral health, but you might have no idea how important they are to your overall well-being. Researchers have found that a healthy mouth can prevent some medical problems. However, an unhealthy mouth has the potential to increase the risk of developing serious health problems.
Your Mouth — A Window to Your Health
Your mouth is a window to your overall health, and many of the early symptoms of disease show up in the mouth. Systemic health problems — such as diabetes or HIV — first show up in the mouth with oral lesions or other oral health problems. Those routine dental checkups give your dentist a chance to see what’s going on in your mouth. It’s very common for dentists to be the first ones to realize that a patient needs treatment for a more serious health problem.
Saliva — The Body’s Defense Against Viruses and Bacteria
Saliva not only helps break down your food, but it washes away food particles, neutralizes acids produced by oral bacteria, and contains antibodies that attack viruses in your mouth — such as the common cold virus. Histatins found in saliva are proteins that help prevent the overgrowth of candida in the mouth, protecting you from oral thrush. Saliva also works to keep you protected from bacteria that cause disease. Unfortunately, certain medications and some medical conditions — such as diabetes — can reduce saliva flow. In addition to reduced saliva flow making it harder for your mouth to protect you from viruses and bacteria, dry mouth increases the risk of developing gum disease.
The Mouth As an Entry Point for Bacteria
The mouth is teeming with bacteria. That’s why regular brushing and flossing is important for reducing bacteria and keeping it from going into the body. Without proper cleaning, plaque can build up on the gum line, creating the perfect environment for more bacteria to accumulate between teeth and gums — an infection known as gingivitis. While the bacteria in the mouth doesn’t usually enter the bloodstream, in some cases, routine flossing and brushing or invasive dental treatments can allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream if you have gum disease. Antibiotics and other medications that can disrupt bacteria balance in the mouth or reduce the flow of saliva can compromise the normal defenses of the mouth, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
If you’re healthy, that oral bacteria entering the bloodstream may not cause a problem. However, in individuals who have a weakened immune system, that oral bacteria in the bloodstream may result in infection in another area of your body. Oral bacteria has been known to cause respiratory infections or even infective endocarditis — an infection of the heart’s inner lining.
The Link Between Gum Disease and Other Diseases
Studies suggest that there’s a link between gum infections —such as periodontitis — and other diseases. The oral inflammation that occurs with gum disease may result in inflammation throughout your body. This inflammation may affect the arteries, leaving you with a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Having diabetes increases the risk of developing gum disease. However, if you have chronic gum disease, it can make it tougher to control your diabetes, too. Infection in the oral cavity may result in insulin resistance, making it more difficult to keep blood sugar levels controlled.
During pregnancy, increased levels of progesterone and estrogen leave women at a greater risk for gum inflammation. When left untreated, this can result in periodontal disease. Women who have periodontal disease during pregnancy have a higher risk of preterm delivery and having a baby with a low birth weight.
There’s undoubtedly a relationship between oral health and overall health, and studies on links between oral health problems and other health conditions make a compelling case for taking good care of your teeth and gums. Good oral hygiene habits and routine dental care not only keep your smile looking great, they can keep you protected from serious health problems — today and in the future.Learn more about the health connections between the mouth and body with the accompanying infographic.
Author bio: Teresa Tuttle is Marketing Director for Grove Dental, a multi-specialty group dental practice in Chicago’s western suburbs. With more than 30 doctors and 50 years of practice experience, Grove Dental’s offices stay on the cutting edge of dentistry to better serve patients.
The Health Connection Between Your Mouth & Body was created by Grove Dental