Oral Health Is Connected to Whole Body Health

Oral Health Is Connected to Whole Body Health
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Oral Health Is Connected to Whole Body HealthClinical Content Reviewed by Licensed DDS
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Table of Contents

  1. Oral Hygiene & Health
  2. Major Organs & Dental Hygiene
  3. Financial Impact by Oral Health
  4. Conditions Correlation
  5. Maintaining a Healthy Life
  6. References

Oral health is linked to changes in mental, emotional, and social wellbeing, but it is also linked to significant health impacts, including damage to the heart, lungs, immune system, pancreas, and more. Chronic illnesses like diabetes and dementia have been linked to prolonged dental health struggles.

Financial harm is also associated with poor dental health.

Oral Hygiene & Health: Supporting the Rest of Your Body

Maintaining good oral hygiene and oral health is an important way to stay healthy overall — not just because you feel better and look better with healthy teeth, but also because your dental health is intricately tied to the health of other systems in your body. Severe gum disease, for example, is known to cause problems in the rest of your body, including severe infection, problems with underlying conditions, and an increased risk of certain conditions associated with old age.

Healthy People 2020 identified oral health as one of the top 10 indicators of good health alongside other indicators, including access to health care, good nutrition, and disease risks, including cancer, HIV, and heart disease. Good oral health has been associated with mental wellness factors, including increased happiness and self-esteem, due to feeling better about smiling and laughing.

People who are lower income are more likely to struggle with tooth decay and disease because of poor diet and higher stress levels. To an extent, good oral health indicates lower risk of illnesses associated with poor food, less exercise, and high-stress lifestyles.

It is important to maintain good oral hygiene, including visiting the dentist regularly. This helps you to avoid serious tooth, gum, and jaw problems, and it also improves overall health.

Major Organ Systems & Health Issues Impacted by Dental Hygiene

Gum disease is one of the leading signs of oral health problems. This is an infection of the soft tissues around your teeth, mainly caused by the buildup of plaque.

Once the gums are infected, they may turn red instead of pink, bleed more often, hurt, and feel inflamed or hot. Your teeth may feel looser and like they are wiggling around. It is possible that, even with some treatment, gum disease does not fully go away. This can cause wider problems in other parts of your body.

Problems associated with poor oral health can cause damage to your body overall and increase your risk of several serious health conditions. Various body systems can be impacted by disease.

Heart Disease
Many heart conditions are associated with poor oral health, including endocarditis, an inflamed infection of the inner heart lining. Atherosclerosis is another; this is plaque that thickens the artery walls, leading to decreased blood flow around the body and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or blood clot.
Respiratory Infection
Bacteria that travel down the throat from the mouth and into the lungs may cause pneumonia. Inhaling bacteria that waft off infected gums may also increase the risk of infection in the lungs.
Prediabetes

Some studies suggest that periodontal disease, starting with gingivitis, makes your blood sugar more difficult to control, which can trigger prediabetes or even diabetes. If you have diabetes already, it can make your diabetes worse.

About half of all American adults, ages 30 and older, have developed gum disease. It begins with gingivitis, but sometimes advances from there. One medical study found a link between periodontitis pathogens and an influence on the pancreatic cells, which could increase the risk of blood sugar changes that eventually trigger diabetes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is a correlation between loss of bone in the teeth and jaw due to gum disease and an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoporosis
Weakening of the teeth and jawbone can indicate the development of osteoporosis. Some medications associated with treating osteoporosis are more likely to trigger bone loss in this area too.
Dementia

There are some links between the changes to the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease and bacteria from gum disease. These bacteria may enter the brain years earlier, through the bloodstream or along nerve channels.

About 1 in 10 adults in the United States over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s, which leads to a steady decline in mental and physical functioning. Early onset Alzheimer’s, which represents about 5 percent of diagnosed cases, is associated with amyloid or senile plaques.

Pregnancy Complications

Consistent or chronic periodontitis in new mothers has been associated with a higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight in their babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2019, 1 in 10 babies in the US was born prematurely.

Low birth weight and premature birth are associated with an increased risk of infant mortality as well as intestinal problems, breathing issues, and bleeding in the brain.

Chronic Pain
Sensitivity and pain in the teeth and jaw can cause clenching, headaches, earaches, neck problems, and systemic musculoskeletal harm from stress that ripples throughout the rest of the body, leading to chronic pain issues.
Preventing oral health issues such as gingivitis and periodontal disease will reduce the risks of developing serious health issues throughout the body.

Financial Health Also Impacted by Oral Health

Organ systems throughout the body may be sensitive to oral health issues. Damage in one area can cause damage in the other. If you have oral health problems, you are also at risk of suffering mental, emotional, social, and financial harm.

You may worry about the appearance of your smile, which may cause you to restrict your expression of emotion in social settings and negatively impact how you perceive yourself. Out-of-pocket costs related to dental health issues can make you worry about your ability to support yourself and your family financially. Putting off dental care can increase the physical damage incurred as well as the potential long-term financial damage, which unfortunately makes some people shy away from even getting started.

Conditions Are Correlated but Not Always Causally Linked

It is important to remember that underlying conditions can make oral health problems harder to manage.

Gum disease and dental problems do not cause underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or immunology issues. Instead, gum disease and these issues are linked together, with the presence of one being linked to an increased risk of the other. This means they are correlated, for the most part. However, it does mean that if you struggle with poor oral hygiene or health, you may have an underlying condition increasing the risk of this issue, which you should discuss with your doctor.

For example, if you develop bad breath and your dentist finds lesions in your mouth, this could be a sign of HIV. Your struggle with halitosis and gum disease did not cause HIV; rather, HIV triggered the oral health issues.

Changes in your saliva can be used to determine if you came into contact with a toxic substance or drug. Your dentist can also detect changes in your mouth that indicate oral and pharyngeal cancers. About 35,000 cases of these diseases are diagnosed every year, and there are about 8,000 deaths associated with mouth and throat cancers.

Oral health can also indicate lifestyle differences that impact your teeth and gums. This includes smoking, poor diet, reduced exercise, and alcohol consumption. If you struggle with substances, eating too much sugar, or lack of moderate exercise, your teeth and gums can reflect these issues. In turn, these problems are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, lung damage, and other organ issues.

Good Oral Health: Maintaining a Healthy Life Overall

There are ways to reduce your risk of harming other organ systems in your body due to dental problems. The best methods are to establish a good oral hygiene routine, including brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice per day, and to visit your dentist one to two times per year for cleanings and checkups. If you have existing gum disease, tooth decay, or other problems, you may need more intensive dental treatment.

Only about 44 percent of people in the United States, from 2 years old into adulthood, visit the dentist each year, on average. This means that too many Americans are struggling with oral health problems for which they don’t seek help.

Good oral hygiene can reduce the severity of systemic problems, but better oral health can also boost mental and emotional wellbeing. If you take the right steps, you can feel good about your smile and emotional expression.

References

How Poor Dental Care Can Affect Your Overall Health. Colgate. Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

Leading Health Indicators. Healthy People (HealthyPeople.gov) from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

The Surprising Connections Between Oral Health and Well Being. (January 2019). University of Chicago, Illinois. Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

Oral Health, General Health and Quality of Life. (September 2005). World Health Organization (WHO). Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

The Health Risks of Gum Disease. (August 2018). National Health Service (NHS). Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

Premature Birth. (October 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

Outcomes and Impacts of Oral Disease. (September 2012). The Department of Health, Australian Government. Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

Your Mouth, Your Body, Your Health – 10 Facts. (March 2021). MyHealth.Alberta.ca. Date fetched: June 5, 2021.

Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body. (April 2006). Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA).

The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health and Well-Being. (2009). The US Oral Health Workforce in the Coming Decade: Workshop Summary.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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