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? Understand the connection between oral health and overall health and what you can do to protect yourself.
What’s the connection between oral health and overall health?
Like many areas of the body, your mouth is filled with millions of bacteria — most of them harmless. Normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
In addition, certain medications — such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics — can reduce saliva flow. Our saliva is important because of its antibacterial fighting power. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbial invasion.
Studies also suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis — a severe form of gum disease — might play a role in some diseases. In addition, certain systemic diseases, such as Diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.
What conditions may be linked to oral health?
Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
It is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
There is research that suggests a casual relationship between chronic periodontitis and cardiovascular diseases. The possible link may involve direct and indirect effects of the periodontal infection. Studies have shown that periodontitis results in higher systemic levels of C-reactive protein, interleukin (IL)-6, and neutrophils. These elevated inflammatory factors may increase inflammatory activity in atherosclerotic lesions, potentially increasing the risk for cardiac or cerebrovascular events. In addition, oral bacteria have been found in carotid atheromas and it is reported that some oral bacteria may be associated with platelet aggregation, an event important for thrombosis.
PREGNANCY and BIRTH
Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight. It has also been stated that periodontitis appears to be an independent risk factor for poor pregnancy outcome and preliminary evidence suggests that periodontal intervention may reduce this adverse pregnancy outcome.
It is well documented in the literature that people diagnosed with diabetes are more prone to developing periodontal disease. There is new research that states that periodontal disease may be a risk factor for diabetes. The bacteria caused by periodontal disease enters the blood stream and triggers our immune cells to produce pronflammatory enzymes that have destructive effects throughout the entire body.
Researchers have suggested that a link between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw. Studies suggest that osteoporosis may lead to tooth loss because the density of the bone that supports the teeth may be decreased, which means the teeth no longer have a solid foundation.
Research has found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be aspirated into the lungs to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, especially in people with periodontal disease.
Because of these potential links, be sure to tell your dentist if you’re taking any medications or have had any changes in your overall health — especially if you’ve had any recent illnesses or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes.
How can I protect my oral health?
To protect your oral health, practice good oral hygiene every day. For example:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
- Floss daily.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks.
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed.
- Schedule regular dental checkups at least twice a year.