Dental health: it’s about much more than white teeth and good breath. While it’s true that oral and dental hygiene can help you prevent bad breath and other mouth-related disorders, it goes much, much deeper than that. In fact, the health of our mouths has a significant impact on the health of the rest of our bodies – from our cardiovascular systems to our immune function.
Sound serious? It is! The great news, though, is that you can protect your health by investing in your dental health. Here’s what you need to know:
The Mouth: A Viewfinder into Your Body’s Complete System
If the eyes are the window to the soul, the mouth is a window to your overall health. According to the American Dental Association (ADA):
“The mouth is filled with countless bacteria; some linked to tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Researchers have found that periodontitis (the advanced form of periodontal disease that can cause tooth loss) is linked with other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and bacterial pneumonia. Likewise, pregnant women with periodontitis may be at increased risk of delivering preterm and low-birth-weight infants.”
To put this another way, a healthy mouth is a sign of good overall health. A mouth riddled with gum disease, loose teeth, and bad breath, though, may be a sign of serious underlying health issues.
5 Ways Dental Health Impacts Overall Health
By now, you know that your body function and your dental health are closely linked. How, exactly, does the health of your mouth impact the health of the rest of your body, though? Here are a few key points we like to tell our clients about:
1. Oral Health Impacts Cardiovascular Health
In recent years, several studies have shown that gum inflammation causes a statistically significant increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke. The reason for this comes down to systemic inflammation: gum disease increases inflammation throughout your body and can lead to inflammation in the soft tissue of the heart.
According to the Canadian Academy of Periodontology (CAP), people with periodontal disease are at higher risk of heart disease and have twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack than people without periodontal disease. Additionally, gum disease that results from extended bacterial exposure can eventually lead to severe cases of heart disease and inflammation.
2. Poor Oral Health Can Lead to Lung Infections
People with periodontal disease have a higher level of bacteria in their mouths. As such, they’re more likely to inhale bacteria and germs down the windpipe, creating an environment in the lungs that leads to severe lung infections, pneumonia, and other conditions. This risk is increased significantly in people who have pre-existing lung issues like COPD.
3. Oral Health can Contribute to Diabetes
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of gum disease. What scientists have recently realized, though, is that there may be a reverse causal relationship, as well. People with gum disease may be more prone to developing diabetes since bacteria in the mouth can impact the body’s ability to control blood glucose levels.
According to the Canadian Diabetes Association:
“Because periodontal disease is an infection, bacteria produce toxins that affect carbohydrate metabolism in individual cells. It is also thought that the host response to periodontal bacteria can increase insulin resistance and, therefore, blood glucose levels.”
This link is an excellent illustrating factor for anyone who still isn’t convinced that taking care of their teeth is essential.
4. Oral Health can Impact Pregnancy
If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, it’s wise to pay careful attention to your teeth. According to recent studies, pregnant women who suffer from progressive gum disease are more likely than their healthy-mouthed counterparts to deliver premature babies or babies with low birth weight or to develop gestational diabetes.
As your pregnancy progresses, be sure to visit your dentist regularly. Not only will your mouth thank you, but your pregnancy will progress more normally thanks to your healthy, clean mouth.
5. Dental Health and Blood Pressure
If you’re letting your oral health slide, you may also be putting your blood pressure levels at risk. According to a study published in October of 2018 by the American Heart Association:
“Poor oral health may interfere with blood pressure control in people diagnosed with hypertension. Periodontal disease — a condition marked by gum infection, gum inflammation and tooth damage — appears to worsen blood pressure and interferes with hypertension treatment. Study findings underscore the importance of good oral health in blood pressure control and its role in preventing the adverse cardiovascular effects known to stem from untreated hypertension.”
If you’re currently taking blood pressure medication, you can increase the efficacy of your therapy by protecting your oral health, as well. Brushing and flossing regularly, and making routine trips to the dentist are all key factors in this process.
Good Oral Health Leads to Good Overall Health
It’s easy to assume that our mouths operate as independent systems – that they have as little to do with our hearts, blood pressure, or pregnancies as a baker would with a spaceship launch. This couldn’t be more misguided, though. Our oral health has a massive impact on the health of our overall body systems. When our mouths are clean and healthy, the rest of our body systems benefit, as a result.
A clean mouth reduces the overall level of bacteria in the body, contributing to a healthier immune system, lower blood pressure, less inflammation, and a reduced risk of disease. If you’re ready to start taking better care of your oral health, the first step is getting to a dentist for a routine checkup. Working closely with a dentist keeps your mouth clean and healthy and ensures you’ll catch any troubling dental problems before they become major issues.
Our team is happy to assist you with this process. Give us a call today to schedule your check-up appointment and start protecting your oral health.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.