Citizen Reporter
Reporter
4 minute read
11 Feb 2020
9:13 am

Common connections between oral health and overall wellness

Citizen Reporter

More than 90% of systemic diseases have oral signs that can be detected by your dentist.

Portrait of a young woman flossing her teeth at home

You can’t have a healthy body without a healthy mouth. Oral health is a key indicator of overall health, well-being and quality of life and refers to the condition of gums, teeth, and surrounding bone and soft tissues of the mouth. Oral disease affects people throughout their lifetime and can cause pain, discomfort and disfigurement.

Gum disease, or gingivitis, occurs when bacteria accumulate in tooth plaque, causing inflammation, receding, swollen and bleeding gums. Untreated gingivitis might progress to the more serious form, periodontitis or periodontal disease. Periodontitis is a bacterial infection of the gum that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports the teeth. Severe periodontal disease, which may result in tooth loss, was the 11th most prevalent disease globally in 2016. The main risk factors of periodontal disease are poor oral hygiene, an unhealthy diet high in sugars, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol.

While it is common knowledge that poor oral health can cause cavities, periodontal disease, and bad breath; it can also lead to other serious health complications. One thing is clear: controlling gum disease can save your teeth. It might even save your life.

Here’s a look at the most common connections between oral health and total health and well-being.

Brain

A new study suggests that brain and oral health may be closely linked. The key oral bacteria that is associated with chronic gum disease, have been implicated as a cause of dementia. Multiple teams of researchers studying Porphyromonas gingivalis established startling linkages between gum inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study, published in Science Advances, links Alzheimer’s and gingivitis and suggests that the bacteria may even spur the production of beta-amyloid proteins, a toxic protein that is a hallmark characteristic of the disease.

Oral diseases are associated with stroke. Harmful bacteria in your mouth can make you more susceptible to developing blood clots, thus increasing the chance of a stroke.

Lungs

Due to the proximity and crucial role of the oral cavity to the respiratory tract, periodontal pathogens (such as P. gingivalis), can spread to the lungs and cause pneumonia, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Pancreas

In 2007, a research team from the Harvard School of Public Health, found a very strong link between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer. Their analysis revealed that there was a 64% greater chance of men developing pancreatic cancer if they had a history of gum disease compared to those who didn’t. This research team also found that the greatest risk of developing pancreatic cancer was in those men who had a recent tooth loss

Heart

Research indicated that there may be link between cardiovascular disease and periodontal disease although there is no conclusive evidence directly linking them. The presence of common oral health problems including gum disease, cavities and missing teeth, were as good at predicting cardiovascular disease as cholesterol levels. According to the researchers, oral bacteria enter the bloodstream and stick to platelets, which forms blood clots that interrupts the flow of blood to the heart and might ultimately lead to a heart attack.

Diabetes

Research studies have found a link between gingivitis/periodontal disease and diabetes. Almost 1 in 3 people with diabetes have severe periodontal disease, as diabetes increases the risk of cavities, gum disease, tooth loss, dry mouth and infection. Diabetes can impair blood flow to the gums, which makes them more susceptible to infections. Additionally, higher glucose levels in the mouth encourage bacterial growth. Periodontal disease increases the risk of developing diabetes and may make it more difficult to manage blood sugar levels.

Your dentist will be able to detect symptoms of diabetes during routine oral health screenings. Dry mouth, bleeding gums, cavities, fruity breath and thick saliva are tell-tale signs of diabetes. And, diabetics often lose more teeth compared to patients without this disease.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women who have periodontal disease are more likely to have a premature and low birth weight baby. Bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the mouth, and the body’s response to the infection can trigger early labour.

Prevention

Prevention is far better than cure when it comes to oral health. Protect more than just your smile, as poor oral hygiene can expose you to so much more than bad breath.

How can I protect my oral health?

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Floss every day.
  • Don’t smoke or vape.
  • Visit the dentist regularly for a check-up and professional cleaning.

More than 90% of systemic diseases have oral signs that can be detected by your dentist. Moreover, there are over 120 medical conditions, which can be detected in the early stage by dentists. Therefore, the dentist can be the first line of defence against gum disease and other systemic diseases including cancer.

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