Oral Health: The Mouth-Body Connection
Did You Know That Your Dental Hygiene Is Linked to Your Overall Health?
In the past decade, a new field of study has seen an increasing interest in the medical world and that is the connection between oral health and overall body health. It may sound a bit unexpected at first, but it seems that the evidence that there really is a link between the two is growing stronger and stronger. A study that has been recently published shows that about 40% of people suffering from a serious gum disease are also suffering from a chronic condition. Could it be just a coincidence?
How could this connection occur? The bacteria in your teeth can lead to tooth decay, which, if left untreated, can produce an infection in your gums. The immune system’s response to this local infection is local inflammation, which translates into a very serious gum disease, called periodontitis. But apart from this, the infected and inflamed gums also release some bad chemicals that could severely affect and influence the overall health of the rest of the body. The fact is that you should look at your body as at a whole entity and, at least from this perspective, it makes perfect sense to consider that the mouth can both affect and be affected by your general state of health. So, let’s look at a few conditions that seem to be most obviously related to oral health (or its lack).
It is not yet perfectly clear what is the link between a bad oral health and cardiovascular diseases, but apparently the vast majority of patients suffering from heart diseases have also been diagnosed with periodontitis. It is true, though, that both of them have several common risk factors like smoking, a bad diet, or excessive weight. However, it is believed that the gum infection and inflammation can trigger or induce the inflammation of blood vessels, which leads to high blood pressure to start with, but can also be an important risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
Endocarditis means the infection of the endocardium, which is the inner layer of tissue of the heart. Usually, this disease occurs because of bacteria that spread from other infected parts of the body, and this can be the case of infected gums.
Up until now, this is the case where there seems to be the strongest connection between a bad oral health and a chronic condition. First of all, the problem with patients suffering from diabetes is that they are prone to infection because of the high blood sugar. And this puts these patients at risk for any kind of infections, including gum infections. On the other hand, it was proven that it is harder to control the blood sugar in people struggling with periodontitis at the same time. So, it is a vicious circle as each of these two diseases contributes to the progression of the other. However, it also seems that by managing one of the conditions, it becomes easier to control the other, as well.
The main link between osteoporosis and bad oral health in general, periodontitis in particular, is that both conditions have something to do with bone loss. The main problem with osteoporosis is that it makes the bones become weak and frail. This is why it is believed that this condition favours the progression of periodontitis. The current theory, that is still being tested, is that this causality goes the other way around, too. That means that because of the inflammation it produces, periodontitis could also be the cause of bones becoming frail in other parts of the body, as well, thus enabling the progression of osteoporosis.
It is already known that, generally, infection and inflammation put the development of the foetus, as well as the entire pregnancy, at risk. Gum diseases manifest through infection and inflammation and currently, specialists are looking at the link between the two. It was already observed that pregnant women suffering from periodontitis have higher chances of a premature delivery or of a low birth weight delivery. And babies born under both these circumstances usually have severe health issues.
Actually, in this case the link is more the other way around, as patients suffering from HIV/AIDS are more likely to develop gum diseases because of their weak immune system. Even so, having a bad oral health can only contribute to the worsening of such a condition, because any new source of infection means another battle for an already very weak immune system.
This is far from being an exhaustive list of the health conditions that can be worsen, or even triggered, by a bad oral health, but it proves that there is a real connection between the mouth and the body. The main idea is to understand the importance of maintaining not only the rest of your body, but also your mouth, healthy. So, if you care about your well being, you shouldn’t postpone the appointments to your dentist anymore, especially if you feel that there might be a problem with your teeth.
However, the best and also the easiest thing to do, apart from having a healthy life style, is having a good and correct oral hygiene. You just have to follow some simple and common sense rules like brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing every day and going for regular dental check-ups. It is always easier to prevent than to cure and this rule also applies to oral health. So, why take chances with your overall health and well-being just because of a ‘scary’ bad tooth, when you know that something so easy to deal with at an early stage, with a simple visit to a dentist’s cabinet, could lead to such major complications later on, throughout your entire body?