What everyone ought to know about the mouth-body link To the average patient, a dental visit is for x-rays, fillings and free toothbrushes. However, research is showing that a trip to the dentist is about much, much more. The mouth is the literal gateway to the rest of the body. What goes on in the mouth is critical to your overall health.
Studies are finding strong correlations between your oral health and your overall health. Opening your mouth is like lifting the hood of a car. An expert can get a good sense of what's working, what's not, and what should be tuned up regularly to keep your body's systems running their best. Like your ‘service engine soon’ light, your teeth and gums can be seen as an early warning sign to your wellbeing. More than 90% of systemic conditions such as heart disease are linked to symptoms in the mouth, the most well known are diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
Oral Health & Diabetes
Signs your dentist will look for:
20 million Americans suffer from diabetes. The disease has an enormous impact on your oral health and vise versa. If you notice bleeding gums, dry mouth, fungal infections, or cavities It may be a sign your immune system is being compromised by Diabetes.
Another critical aspect of this connection is sugar. If blood sugar levels are out of control in your body, they are also out of control in your mouth. With sugar to feed on, bacteria are happy to thrive. These bacteria attack the tooth’s enamel, and over time cavities will develop.
Uncontrolled diabetes reduces the body's first line of defense against infection -- white blood cells -- and can put a person's oral health at risk. With bacteria teeming around the gums, and a lot of sugar to feed on, periodontal disease could also set in.
Oral Health & Heart Disease
If on your last visit to the dentist you were told you had gingivitis or gum inflammation, cavities, missing teeth, molar infections, and/or decay so severe it's left only the roots of a tooth, you may need to pay close attention to your heart health.
The jury is still out, but according to research from the American Heart Association, poor oral health could increase your chances of developing heart disease -- more so than the usual suspects of cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In fact, the American Academy of Periodontology reports that, among five oral diseases, pericoronitis is the strongest predictor of coronary disease. Pericoronitis is an infection in the gum tissue around a tooth; gums recede and teeth can loosen as their support weakens. "We think it's the bacteria, or the inflammatory response from the bacteria, that might cause inflammation of the heart and more plaque buildup in the blood vessels," says Rick Kellerman, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Unfortunately, neither your dentist nor your doctor fully understands how your mouth is connected to your heart. So while you wait for more research related to the impact of oral health on heart health, your dentist will recommend you do two things: brush and floss. "The few minutes you need to spend a day brushing and flossing is a small price to pay to not have bypass surgery when you are older if there does turn out to be a connection," Cram tells WebMD.
Oral Health & Osteoporosis
If you have lost teeth, your dentist may tell you that osteoporosis may be the root cause. "Bones are bones, and that includes the jaw," says Kellerman. "As the anchor point for the teeth, if your jaw becomes less dense and weakens, losing teeth becomes more and more likely."
Osteoporosis that weakens the jaw may lower a person's defense against bacteria that affect the gums, which can lead to periodontal disease. "You want to be very conscientious about brushing and flossing if you have osteoporosis, because if you get periodontal disease, and you are already losing bone mass, you're at a higher risk of losing teeth," says Cram.
The risk of tooth loss is three times greater for women with osteoporosis than for women who do not have the disease. "Women in particular should take calcium and vitamin D, exercise, eat right, and do all of the things necessary to help prevent osteoporosis, which down the road could help prevent losing teeth," Kellerman tells WebMD.
Keep your whole self healthy and pay attention to what your teeth may be telling you.