Many people assume that dental health and general physical health are separate concerns. There’s a reason, they might say, that your doctor doesn’t check your teeth for cavities and your dentist doesn’t measure your blood pressure. How is oral health related to overall health? Interestingly, researchers have proven that there is a synergistic relationship between oral health and overall health. If you don’t take care of your teeth, your negligence may affect your body as a whole; and if you don’t take care of your body, you may experience side effects in your mouth.
How Is Oral Health Related to Overall Health?
Oral Conditions Can Infect Your Entire Body
If you don’t brush and floss regularly, plaque can form in your mouth and cause a gum infection (gingivitis), which may develop into a more serious condition (periodontitis). Left untreated, this infection can introduce bacteria into your bloodstream, allowing it to travel throughout your entire body. If you have a weak immune system, oral bacteria can cause an infection in another part of your body, such as your heart, which increases your risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event. Think about that the next time you’re thinking about skipping flossing.
A Variety of Conditions Can Produce Oral Symptoms
Examining your oral health can tell your doctor or dentist a lot about your overall health. For example, systemic diseases (which affect your entire body) like diabetes and AIDS may first reveal themselves with oral symptoms like mouth lesions. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, over 90 percent of systemic diseases produce oral symptoms (source). In addition, your doctor can test your saliva to monitor bone loss, detect some cancer markers, and measure certain hormones and antibodies.
Oral Infections and Other Health Conditions Are Related
Research has linked oral conditions like gum disease with other health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers have not proven that oral infections cause these diseases (more research is needed), but they may worsen the progression of the disease or make treatment more difficult.
For example, chronic gum disease appears to make diabetes more difficult to control. Gingivitis may cause inflammation throughout the body, increasing the risk of clogged arteries and blood clots, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry discovered that people with gum disease are twice as likely to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to experience a stroke (source). There’s also a link between gum disease and plaques in the carotid artery. Finally, severe gum disease may increase a pregnant woman’s risk of pre-term delivery and a low birth weight baby (source).
So how is oral health related to overall health? A condition in your body can impact your mouth, and a condition in your mouth can impact your body. To stay healthy, you need to stay on top of both your physical health and your oral health and visit your dentist and doctor regularly. In addition, contact your dentist if you notice concerning changes to your mouth, such as bleeding gums, loose teeth or gums, or persistent bad breath.
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