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 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.
How Your Medical Problems Can Effect Oral Health
- Certain medications reduce saliva flow, which increases the acidity and amount 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 can experience:
- burning sensations in the mouth
- impaired/delayed wound healing in the mouth
- increased incidence and severity of oral infections
- yeast infections in the mouth
- dry mouth,
- gum infections
How Oral Health Plays a Role in the Development of Medical Problems
Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart. 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.
Heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke are associated with the inflammation and infections caused by bacteria in the mouth. Small amounts of bacteria enter your bloodstream and lodge inside of blood vessels, causing dangerous blockages.
Bacteria from the mouth also produce a protein that might make blood clots more likely to form.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 200 showed 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. People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease (the most common type of heart disease).
Maternal gum disease plays a part in premature birth and the chances of giving birth to a low birth weight infant.
People who have periodontal disease have a twofold risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to people with low levels or no gum disease. It seems that when infections in the mouth become severe, they lead to low-grade inflammation throughout the body. The inflammatory molecules might attach to insulin receptors and prevent the body from accessing the receptors to get glucose into the cells. People who have gum disease also have a more challenging time controlling their blood sugar levels.
There is a link between poor oral health and pneumonia. In a study of older adults, the number of participants who developed pneumonia was 3.9 times higher in patients with periodontal disease 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
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride.
- Move the toothbrush back and forth gently in short strokes.
- Brush the outer tooth surfaces, the inner tooth surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth
- Use the brush’s tip to clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth using a gentle up-and-down stroke.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath
- Brush for about three minutes each time
- Floss daily.
- Break off about 18 inches of floss and wind it around the middle fingers of each hand, holding it tightly between your thumbs and forefingers
- Guide the floss between your teeth using a gentle rubbing motion
- When the floss reaches the gum line, curve it into a C shape against one tooth, and gently slide the floss into the space between the gum and the tooth.
- Antimicrobial mouth rinses reduce bacteria and plaque activity, which causes gingivitis and gum disease. Fluoride mouth rinses help to reduce and prevent tooth decay. Always talk to your dentist before using any new products.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacking.
- Replace your toothbrush at least every three to four months.
- 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.
- People who stay fit and healthy are 40% less likely to develop tooth-threatening gum infections that could lead to gum disease – just one more reason to exercise!
Call the Dentist Right Away
- If your gums bleed during brushing and flossing
- If your gums are red, swollen, or tender
- If your gums have pulled away from your teeth
- If you have persistent bad breath
- If you have pus between your teeth and gums
- If you have loose or separating teeth
- If there is a change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
- If there is a change in the fit of your partial dentures
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.