Most everyone knows that poor oral care can result in tooth decay and gum disease, but did you know that your oral health is linked to your diabetes and heart disease risk? Plaque is a bacteria-laden film that can accumulate on your teeth and gums if you aren’t diligent about brushing and flossing. This plaque can cause empty spaces to form around your teeth over time, and these open spaces can lead to the destruction of bone and other tissues that support your teeth; this is how periodontal (gum) disease leads to tooth loss.
The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health
- Certain medications reduce saliva flow, increasing the acidity and the number of microbes in your mouth. These medications include decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants.
- Certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.
- Osteoporosis might cause bone and tooth loss in the mouth. Medications used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the jawbones.
- Individuals with diabetes sometimes experience these problems in their mouth:
- burning sensations
- impaired/delayed wound healing
- increased incidence and severity of infections
- yeast infections
How Oral Health Plays a Role in the Development of Medical Problems
The inflammation and infections that can arise in the mouth can lead to heart disease, clogged arteries, and strokes. For example, endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining; it typically develops when bacteria from another part of your body (like your mouth) spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged parts of the heart. Small amounts of bacteria can also lodge inside of blood vessels, causing dangerous blockages. Simultaneously, bacteria from the mouth also produce a protein that might make blood clots more likely to form.
Research has proven that aggressive treatment of gum disease reduces the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on the artery walls in just six months.
Maternal gum disease increases the risks of both premature birth and low birth weight.
People with periodontal disease have a two-fold risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people with little or no gum disease. The inflammatory molecules produced from infections in the mouth are believed to attach to insulin receptors and prevent their ability to direct glucose out of the blood and into cells.
There is a clear link between poor oral health and pneumonia. In a study of older adults, 3.9 times more patients with periodontal disease developed pneumonia than people without it. Bacteria from the mouth can get aspirated into the lungs and cause pneumonia or aggravate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What You Can Do for Better Oral Health
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, for about three minutes each time, with fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath.
- Replace your toothbrush at least every three to four months.
- Floss daily.
- Use an antimicrobial mouth rinse to reduce bacteria and plaque activity, which causes gingivitis and gum disease.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacking.
- Quit smoking if necessary.
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
- Drink lots of water so that you produce enough saliva to protect hard and soft oral tissues.
- Avoid soft, sweet, sticky foods such as cake, candy, and dried fruit that clings to teeth and promotes tooth decay.
- Another reason to exercise: People who stay fit and healthy are 40% less likely to develop tooth-threatening gum infections that could lead to gum disease.
Call the Dentist Right Away
- Your gums bleed during brushing and flossing
- You notice that your gums are red, swollen, or tender
- It appears that you gums have pulled away from your teeth
- You suspect persistent bad breath
- You see pus between your teeth and gums
- Your teeth are loose or separating
- There is a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- Your partial dentures fit differently
Academy of General Dentistry. ABCs of oral health.
American Dental Association. Oral health topics: Diabetes.
Dental Associates. How to properly floss teeth.
Everyday Health. Dental health and overall health. Updated February 9, 2016.
Everyday Health. Maintaining good dental care habits. Updated October 10, 2007.
Mayo Clinic. Oral health: A window to your overall health. Updated June 4, 2019.
Oral Health Foundation. Healthy gums and healthy body.
The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. The true story of why you get cavities, according to a billion microbes.