The Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health
It’s easy to think of our mouth as separate from the rest of our body, and common to think that the health of our mouth doesn’t affect the health of our body. In reality, our mouth is no more separate than any other part of our body is, and it’s incredibly essential to our health! New research indicates that there is a complex relationship between our mouth and the rest of our bodies.
Illnesses and medicines impact our oral health.
The illnesses we may have can greatly impact our oral health in a number of ways, many of which seem innocuous at first. Sjögren’s syndrome and certain medications, for example, can cut down on the production of saliva. At first, this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but saliva is an important part of our mouths’ natural cleaning system. It clears out food particles, contains antibodies that fight viruses, and defends our teeth against bacteria. When there is less saliva, our bodies are less effective at fighting these things, which leads these patients to be at greater risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Similarly, diseases that weaken the entire body’s resistance to infection, such as diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV/AIDS, and many autoimmune diseases, can cause patients to be more susceptible to gum disease. If the body isn’t great at defending against bacteria everywhere else in the body, it’s likely also not great at defending against it in the mouth. Similarly, people with osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to weaken and break easily, are believed to be at higher risk for periodontal bone loss and, as a result, tooth loss.
Even temporary—and entirely natural—conditions can have an effect on our oral health. Fluctuations in hormones caused by puberty, menstruation, menopause, and even pregnancy can make people more prone to gum disease.
Our mouths can be a diagnostic tool.
It’s not all bad news, though. Our mouths are linked to our bodies, and therefore, they can act as a window to what’s going on in them. They can act as a diagnostic tool for doctors, sometimes showing the first signs that something is wrong. In Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder that leaves joints loose and causes chronic pain and joints that dislocate easily, the palate at the top of the mouth is often malformed. This is because the palate is made of two plates that fuse in utero, but because of the body’s inability to make collagen correctly in EDS, this palate often doesn’t form correctly. Properly recognized, this could be a sign that something else is going on before young patients begin to experience much discomfort, and can prevent a lot of unintended damage to the joints as a result.
Sjögren’s syndrome and diabetes could also be picked up on by dentists because of lesions that appear in patients’ mouths, as well as other oral problems, such as persistent gum disease, despite patients’ best efforts to remove plaque by flossing and brushing their teeth regularly. Cancers, such as leukemia, can also be detected through signs in the mouth, like bleeding gums, swelling, ulcers, and more.
Poor oral health can cause disease.
The relationship between our body and our overall health goes both ways. Just as illnesses can manifest themselves in our mouth, poor oral hygiene can lead to illnesses elsewhere in the body. Due to its connection with bacteria, periodontitis is a big contributor to other illnesses throughout the body. Periodontitis, which is severe gum disease that can lead to the loss of teeth, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, arterial blockages, stroke, and bacterial pneumonia. Once under your gums, it’s thought that the bacteria in your mouth can make it into your bloodstream, traveling throughout your body and even ending up in your heart. There, it can cause heart problems, such as endocarditis, which is an infection in the inner lining of the heart.
Some patients who are more susceptible to periodontitis in the first place due to health problems also face more serious consequences because of gum disease. People with diabetes are more likely to suffer from periodontitis, for example, and it’s thought that gum disease makes it harder for them to maintain their blood sugar levels. It’s also thought that pregnant women with periodontitis could be more likely to deliver their babies early or at a lower than average weight. This makes it all the more important for pregnant women to be dedicated to their oral health throughout their pregnancies, keeping a close eye on their tooth and gum health. However, more research is needed on topics like this to determine a solid pattern of cause and effect and pinpoint exactly how the bacteria causes such issues.
How can you play a part?
You can take an active role in your health by including your mouth in your dedication to your overall health. You should care for your mouth just as you should exercise, drink plenty of water, and eat healthy foods to keep your body as healthy as possible. Brush your teeth at least twice a day, use mouthwash, floss daily, and visit Dr. Alhadef for a cleaning every six months. You should pay close attention to whether or not your gums bleed during flossing, and alert Dr. Alhadef if the bleeding doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks of flossing regularly. Persistent bleeding could mean that you need a more thorough treatment for periodontitis.
While it often seems unrelated, you should let your doctor know about any health conditions you have, especially chronic ones, and keep him updated on what medicines you take. This will help your dentist make informed decisions about your care, and he can alert you if you are taking any medications or have any illnesses that could impact your oral health, which will, in turn, help you take better care of your mouth by getting ahead of the issues you may be predisposed to.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Knowing how your body and mouth interact with each other, and whether or not you have risk factors that could affect your oral health, is the first step in learning how to care for your mouth properly. With just a little bit of time investment each day, you can make your mouth as healthy as it can be and potentially safeguard yourself against more serious illnesses.