Most of us are aware of the importance of regularly brushing, flossing and taking care of our teeth. But you may not know that your dental health is linked to the overall health of the body. Poor dental health can be a sign of health problems elsewhere. With that in mind, here are a few things your dental health may be telling you about the health of other body systems.
Heart attack and diabetes
Advanced periodontal disease and gum disease lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation in your body. This inflammation may not only be affecting your oral health. Advanced gum disease can significantly increase your risk of contracting diabetes and suffering a fatal heart attack. This is due to the fact that gum disease is associated with inflammation and imbalanced microflora in the mouth. So if your dentist informs you that you have gum disease, this is not something you want to ignore. Instead, you’ll want to address it before it becomes a more serious problem.
Viruses as bacteria
As mentioned above, the state of your oral health is closely linked to the condition of the microflora in your mouth. The microbiome in the mouth helps to protect you from viruses and harmful bacteria. So poor oral health can mean you may be more susceptible to pathogens.
Simply taking more probiotics does not help to improve the state of the microbiome in the mouth. Instead, you must maintain a proper oral hygiene routine. This means not using toothpaste and mouthwash that contains alcohol and other agents intended to kill bacteria, because they’re killing your good bacteria, as well.
Research shows that those with gum disease may be at a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A study from the University of Central Lancashire examined the brains of 10 patients with dementia and 10 without. The brains of those suffering from dementia showed the presence of a bacterium associated with chronic gum disease. The bacteria will usually be found in the oral cavities. They can enter the bloodstream through ordinary activities like chewing and brushing the teeth. The study adds to previous research, which found that cold sores and gum inflammation could be linked to cognitive dysfunction.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo found a link between gum disease and osteoporosis, particularly in postmenopausal women. Those with bone loss associated with osteoporosis had an 86 percent higher risk of having gum disease. This may be the case because, while osteoporosis doesn’t affect the teeth directly, it can affect the bones that support the teeth, leading to a receding gum line and other symptoms. While the researchers note that more study is needed, it could be the case that something as simple as a routine dental X-ray could help to screen for bone loss and alert doctors to the need to treat the underlying osteoporosis.
Eating disorders can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to a wide range of health problems. And those problems can negatively impact one’s oral health. A 2012 study confirmed the link between having an eating disorder and experiencing dental erosion. And, the study adds, the longer the patient has been suffering from the eating disorder, the more dental erosion they experience.
Although a certain amount of reflux is normal, excessive reflux can be a sign of health concerns you may want to address with your doctor. And what’s more, it can occur when we’re sleeping, in which case we will be unaware of it. But, as this study points out, our oral health can alert us to any reflux that may be going on while we sleep. Gastroesophageal reflux is associated with dental erosion. So if your dentist or doctor notices this kind of erosion going on, addressing the possibility of reflux may be a good idea.
Cavities may, on some occasions, be the result of dry mouth. Too little saliva can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Dry mouth may be a side effect of certain medications. Or, it could be associated with more serious health concerns, like diabetes.
Most of us know that taking good care of our oral health can prevent cavities, gum disease, the loss of teeth and other oral health problems. But oral health is linked to overall health, as well. Problems with our oral health may be signs that there are other, underlying health conditions that need to be addressed. While this is not always the case, and going immediately into fear is likely unnecessary, it is a good idea to check with your doctor if you are concerned about your dental health.
— Sarah Cooke