Many people think of oral health as somehow separate from overall health. When you consider how we’re taught to focus on preventing cavities and periodontal (gum) disease by brushing and flossing regularly – and visiting the dentist twice a year for a cleaning and examination – it’s easy to see how this division occurs. Of course, there’s also the fact that we visit a physician for our overall health and a dentist for our oral health!
However, our teeth, gums, jawbone and related oral structures are all part of us, just as much as our organs, bones, muscles and skin. For this reason, neglecting your oral health will eventually have a detrimental effect on your overall health. According to Mayo Clinic, problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body. “Like other areas of the body, your mouth teems with bacteria – mostly harmless. But your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and some of these bacteria can cause disease.”
What Conditions Are Linked to Poor Oral Health?
As our blog post – “Common Dental Health Myths” – points out, there are many correlations between mouth and body. A mouth with severe tooth decay and periodontal disease (which can start with an untreated cavity, as well as a buildup of plaque) is more likely to cause bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and result in other serious health issues.
Studies have found a link between periodontal disease and heart disease, diabetes, cancer and more. Colgate and Absolute Dental provide this list of the conditions that periodontal disease can cause or exacerbate:
- Heart disease – The bacteria from inflammation of gum disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart. This can lead to atherosclerosis (when plaque develops on and thickens the arteries’ inner walls, decreasing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke), and endocarditis (infection and inflammation of the inner lining of the heart).
- Dementia – Gingivitis bacteria can enter the brain through nerve channels or the bloodstream, possibly leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
- Respiratory infections – Inhaling bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period could lead to infections in the lungs, as well as pneumonia.
- Diabetic complications – Periodontal disease can make blood sugar difficult to control and make diabetes worse. People with diabetes are also prone to periodontal disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – The more tooth loss due to gum disease, the higher the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pregnancy complications – Hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy can cause a woman to develop oral infections much more easily. Any infection in the mother’s body increases the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. Our blog post – “What You Need to Know About Dental Care During Pregnancy” – covers many more topics of interest to expectant mothers.
- Infertility – Gum disease can lead to various overall health issues that can make it more difficult for a woman to conceive and sustain a healthy pregnancy. It can take longer for a woman with poor oral health to become pregnant.
- Erectile dysfunction – Bacteria from diseased gums can get into the bloodstream and cause blood vessels to become inflamed. This inflammation can block the flow of blood to the male genitals.
- Cancer – Smoking or using tobacco products can lead to oral and throat cancers, but other types of cancer have also been linked to gum disease. The risk for kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and blood cancers is much higher for those who have poor oral health.
- Kidney disease – Chronic kidney disease also affects the heart, bones and blood pressure. People with gum disease generally have weaker immune systems and are more likely to develop infections. Kidney disease can be fatal if it leads to kidney failure or cardiovascular disease.
How Can I Protect My Oral Health?
As a Healthline article so succinctly puts it, “Even if you’re cavity-free and have the pearliest chompers in town, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to gum disease. Since it’s usually painless, most people have no idea that anything is wrong with their gums.” So while you may think of people who develop periodontal disease as having “bad teeth” or unhygienic habits, the progress can be well along before you notice symptoms. In other words, don’t assume you’re safe if you brush your teeth three times a day! Our blog post – “Types of Gum Disease” – covers this topic in detail, including how it starts, symptoms, risk factors, treatment and prevention.
Following a healthy lifestyle is key to achieving good overall and oral health! A poor diet is bad for both. Our blog post – “The Best And Worst Foods For A Healthy Smile” – covers the importance of a well-balanced, nutritious diet in supplying the nutrients that the body, bones, teeth and gums need to renew tissues and help fight infection and disease — including periodontal disease.
Following good oral hygiene practices is essential, and must be done consistently to be effective. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing twice daily – although once after every meal is better, as well as after a snack, if possible.
- Use a soft-bristle brush.
- Brush for at least two minutes, staying for 30 seconds in each quadrant of your mouth.
- Floss before and after brushing to remove food particles between teeth so that plaque-causing bacteria doesn’t have the opportunity to form.
- Gently scrape or brush your tongue and inside cheeks.
- Use a fluoride mouthwash for 20 seconds as a final rinse.
Last, but definitely not least, your dentist is your partner in achieving and maintaining optimum health! Schedule twice-yearly examinations and cleanings – more, if your dentist advises in order to monitor a condition. Regular examinations allow the dentist to observe changes or conditions that need treatment before they become critical, and removes plaque that brushing alone can’t accomplish.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our endodontist, Dr. Sabek, and our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh. Dr. Danesh is a board-certified periodontist and Diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology. He has contributed to the publication of two books, as well as published over 20 papers in prestigious dental research journals.