It’s not just the pretty smile that matters. Maintaining good dental health has been proven in many ways to be critical to your overall health. While some underestimate the significance of oral health, the health of a person’s mouth can provide valuable clues about general health. In fact, problems in your mouth can potentially affect the rest of your body. There are a number of connections between dental health and overall health, and how taking care of your teeth and gums is essential for your overall well-being.
The link between oral health and overall health
Your mouth stores numerous bacteria, most of which are harmless. However, your mouth serves as the gateway to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and there are certain bacteria in the mouth that can cause diseases when they enter these areas. With proper oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing, your body’s natural defenses can keep these bacteria under control. But neglecting your dental health can allow these bacteria to multiply, leading to oral infections such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Taking some common medicines can also have a big impact on your oral health, which can lead to other illnesses. Decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants can reduce saliva flow, and saliva plays a key role in maintaining oral health as it washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. When saliva flow decreases, the risk of bacterial growth and subsequent diseases increases.
Poor oral health leads to common health problems
Your dental health can impact several diseases and conditions, including:
- Endocarditis Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves (endocardium). It typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart.
- Cardiovascular Disease Although the exact connection is not fully understood, research suggests that oral bacteria can contribute to inflammation and infections that may increase the risk of heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke.
- Pregnancy and Birth Complications Periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight in pregnant women.
- Pneumonia Certain bacteria present in your mouth can be drawn into your lungs, leading to pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
While poor oral health can lead to illness, it’s also true that poor overall health, and some certain illnesses, can have the reverse effect. These are some of the conditions that can influence your oral health:
- Diabetes Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection, putting your gums at greater risk. Individuals with diabetes are more prone to experiencing frequent and severe gum disease. Research has also demonstrated that individuals with gum disease tend to have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels. Therefore, regular periodontal care is essential for managing diabetes.
- HIV/AIDS Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common among individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
- Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by bone weakening. It is associated with loss of bone in the jaw, which can lead to tooth loss. Certain medications used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of jawbone damage.
- Alzheimer’s Disease Worsening oral health is often observed as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, and immune system disorders.
Taking care of your dental health isn’t just about having a great smile; it’s about safeguarding your overall health and well-being. By maintaining good oral hygiene practices, visiting your dentist regularly, and seeking prompt treatment for any oral health issues, you can protect yourself from potential diseases and complications.