You probably know that proper oral care, including brushing and flossing your teeth, will keep your teeth clean and your gums healthy, but did you know that even basic oral hygiene can help with keeping your entire body healthy? Many dentists and primary care doctors understand that the health of the mouth can indicate other potential health issues, and unhealthy mouths can also lead to disease in other parts of the body.
A Dirty Mouth
The average person’s mouth has many different types of bacteria. Not all of them are harmful, but when teeth go without proper care, the number of total bacteria living in a mouth could be between 100 million and 1 billion—about 1/7 the population of the entire planet!
While much of the mouth’s bacteria is harmless, and some is even helpful, the buildup of harmful bacteria can cause significant problems. It can lead to gum disease like gingivitis, or invite more severe periodontal disease, tooth decay, and eventually even tooth loss.
Connecting Your Mouth and Your Health
Most experts believe that the link between dental health and overall health stems from inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to infection. Inflammation tells the immune system to go to the part of the body that is experiencing the problem so it can fight off the disease. Acute inflammation—the kind that happens when you get hurt or sick—is good for the body because it helps the immune system identify and fight infection, disease, or injury. However, in cases of frequent and ongoing gum disease causing chronic inflammation, the chemicals released to fight the infection can actually wear down the immune system, making less effective at defeating disease throughout the body. The body responds with an inflammatory process, including blood vessel expansion, to increase blood flow to the affected areas. Instead of receding when the threat is gone, the immune system continues to attack. Inflammatory chemicals like histamine, bradykinin and prostaglandins continue to flood the area, damaging the healthy tissue.
The Link Between Oral Health and Chronic Disease
The strongest connection between oral health and chronic disease is with diabetes. Studies show that that inflammation and periodontal disease weaken the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels, which is critical to controlling diabetes. Conversely, high blood sugar levels will contribute to higher levels of sugar in the saliva, creating an ideal environment for more bacteria to grow. This increases the severity of gum disease for diabetic patients.
Heart disease has also been closely linked to oral health, although the reasons are still unclear. Part of the connection may be that the risk factors for heart disease and gum disease are similar, including smoking, being overweight or obese, and eating an unhealthy diet. Some researchers and medical professionals also theorize that inflammation in the mouth can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels. This inflammation makes it harder for blood to travel throughout the body, raising blood pressure and heightening the danger that arterial plaque could break off the walls of the blood vessels and cause a stroke or heart attack.
Other diseases and chronic conditions that may be linked to oral health problems include:
- Premature birth and low birthweight babies
- Alzheimer’s disease
Protecting from Oral Disease
The best way to prevent periodontal disease is to practice good oral hygiene habits:
- Brush those teeth at least twice per day
- Floss daily
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies, and limited or no sugar
- Visit with a dentist regularly for check-ups
Visiting the dentist every six months makes catching potential problems easy. Issues like gingivitis, gum recession, bone loss, tender tissues, and an increased number of cavities all can indicate more significant problems. Since these changes are subtle, a dentist may have a difficult time diagnosing the symptoms of someone who comes in infrequently for check-ups. Seeing the same dentist regularly and building a care history in one place is important to maintain dental health.
The providers at Roseman Dental offer empathic, patient-centered care at accessible costs. Make an appointment to keep your smile and body healthy for the long haul.