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11 July 2024

The Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health: Emerging Research Insights

You might consider your dentist and doctor as unrelated areas of your health. However, emerging research indicates how oral health affects overall health. Therefore, the benefits of taking care of your oral health could extend beyond just your teeth and gums. 

While oral health issues may not be a direct cause of a general health issue, they can be contributing risk factors. This link means early diagnosis and treatment of oral health problems could reduce the risk of developing other health issues.

How Oral Health Affects Overall Health

When examining your mouth, your dentist not only evaluates your oral health, they can also get a good sense of your overall health. This is because certain conditions within the mouth can impact the body.

Gingivitis is an early form of gum disease and is caused by bacteria. It can be treated if spotted early by a dentist. However, left without treatment, it can develop into a more advanced form of gum disease called periodontal disease. This is much harder to treat and leads to inflammation of the gums.

Tooth decay is another oral health issue that can lead to inflammation and tooth loss. A build-up of bacteria and plaque resulting from inadequate oral health hygiene leads to cavities and tooth decay.

The bacteria and inflammation from oral health issues like gum disease and tooth decay can spread to other areas of the body. This creates a link between oral health and overall health.

General Health Conditions Linked to Poor Oral Health

Maintaining healthy teeth and gums promotes good overall health by ensuring you can eat a balanced, nutritious diet. When you have cracked, damaged, or missing teeth, you may not be able to eat certain foods. A nutritious diet is key to good overall health.

However, poor oral health is also seen as a contributing risk factor to other health conditions. These include:

  • Coronary artery disease: the most common form of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the US
  • Atherosclerosis: a hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels
  • Stroke: studies point to a significant link between periodontal disease and stroke
  • Endocarditis: an inflammation of the lining of the valves in the heart that can be caused by a bacterial infection
  • Pneumonia: bacteria from the mouth that spreads to the airways and lungs could be linked to an increased risk of this lung infection

Oral Health and Pregnancy

Maintaining good oral health practices remains important when pregnant. Poor oral health is linked to several health issues during pregnancy, including:

  • Miscarriage
  • Low birth weight
  • A fetus that is smaller than expected for its gestational age
  • Stillbirth
  • Pre-eclampsia

Common Risk Factors Affecting Oral Health and General Health

Poor diet, smoking, excess alcohol, a lack of exercise, and stress are all lifestyle factors that can have a detrimental effect on both your oral health and overall health. As they are contributing risk factors to periodontal disease and tooth decay, they can increase your risk of other health complications.

However, how people respond to bacteria levels differs from person to person. Some people are more prone to inflammation due to a larger response from their body’s immune system to bacteria. This can place them at more risk from both periodontal disease and other diseases in the body.

Genetics is another key risk factor for poor oral health issues like gum disease, as well as general health issues. Your family history can often be a signal of whether you will be more predisposed to conditions like periodontal disease and other health conditions.

Existing Medical Conditions Can Increase Your Risk of Oral Health Problems

The link between oral health and general health is not necessarily a one-way street. Certain medical conditions can place you at an increased risk of gum disease. While more research is required, recent studies point to the link between the following conditions and periodontal disease.

  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • HIV/Aids
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Prostate cancer
  • Fibromyalgia

For example, in the case of osteoporosis, the jaw bone can be impacted by the low bone density associated with this condition. Periodontal disease can also cause the loss of bone that supports your teeth. Osteoporosis could therefore worsen the impact of periodontal disease on the bone.

Develop a Good Oral Hygiene Routine

The simplest way to minimize the risk of poor oral health affecting overall health is to develop and maintain good oral health practices. These can quickly become part of your daily routine, performed without a second thought.

  1. Brush Teeth Twice Daily

Brush your teeth using a soft-bristled toothbrush twice a day. You do not need to brush hard to remove most plaque. Your dentist may recommend an electric toothbrush and a fluoridated toothpaste.

  1. Floss Daily

Flossing daily helps remove food particles trapped in areas that are difficult to reach with a toothbrush. Otherwise, these particles become a feeding ground for bacteria.

  1. Regular Dental Appointments

Most people should aim to visit their dentist at least twice every year. Your dentist can remove any plaque or tartar that you have missed. Diagnosing a problem early can mean requiring less invasive treatment.

  1. Visit a Periodontist

A periodontist specializes in the gums. An annual appointment alongside regular visits to a dentist can help ensure you maintain healthy teeth and gums, as well as a strong, healthy jaw.

Final Thoughts

Emerging research points to a link between oral health and overall health. Inflammation and bacteria in the mouth can cause health issues elsewhere in the body. This is why good oral health practices including twice daily brushing, a healthy lifestyle and regular dentist appointments can benefit your general health not just the health of your teeth and gums.

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