You may think of brushing and flossing as personal grooming habits that should be observed daily to keep your teeth looking clean and keep bad breath from developing. However, your oral hygiene routine can have a significant impact on your heart and lung health. Likewise, your oral health can tell your dentist a lot about your health. A trained professional can often tell from examining your mouth and teeth that there may be something amiss in your body.
Most of the bacteria that live in your mouth are benign. It is part of the natural flora of your body. The harmful bacteria is usually kept in check by a combination of regular oral hygiene, trips to the dentist, and your very own immune system. However, if your health is compromised, the bacteria have an opportunity to flourish, leading to painful problems.
Diseases Affecting Oral Health
Many health conditions are limited to one part of the body. Others have a clear correlation with the body as a whole. Modern medicine is finding more and more connections between organ systems. We are beginning to understand how dysfunction in one area can lead to problems in another seemingly unrelated area.
- Osteoporosis – Most common among post-menopausal women, osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones due to a loss in bone mass. It can cause bones to compress and fracture easily. Because the structure of the mouth is primarily made up of bone tissue, it impacts oral health. It can lead to bone loss in the jaw and teeth, resulting in tooth loss.
- Diabetes – A growing problem in the United States, diabetes often facilitates the development of gum disease. High sugar levels in the saliva cause many diabetic individuals to have higher levels of bacteria in their mouths. These bacteria can lead to severe cases of gum disease known as periodontitis. This infection of the gums has been linked to difficulty in controlling blood sugar levels. Thus, the two problems feed off of one another, making oral care extremely important.
- Eating Disorders – It is often a dentist that diagnoses eating disorders such a bulimia nervosa. This eating disorder, which usually involves purging, causes damage to the teeth due to repeated stomach acid exposure.
- HIV/AIDS – It is common for patients who have HIV/AIDS to develop painful sores in the mouth due to infections. With a weakened immune system, their bodies struggle to fight off bacteria and viruses in the mouth.
- Cancer – Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can take a toll on the body in many ways. They weaken the immune system, allowing naturally occurring bacteria in the mouth to get out of control. Patients may develop mouth sores or infections that can delay treatments.
Radiation therapy near the head or neck can affect salivary glands and cause dry mouth. Without adequate saliva to rinse away food particles and acids produced by bacteria, tooth decay, and gum disease can develop quickly.
Disease Affected by Oral Health Conditions
On the flip side of the coin, poor oral hygiene has been linked to several diseases, particularly in the heart and lungs. While a cause and effect relationship has yet to be established, the connection between the two conditions is too strong to overlook.
- Cardiovascular Disease – This refers to a category of heart conditions, including stroke, heart failure, heart attack, and arrhythmias. The connection between cardiovascular disease and the mouth is not fully understood. However, many experts believe that the inflammation associated with oral infections like gum disease can lead to plaque build-up in blood vessels. This narrowing of the blood vessels can lead to stroke and heart attack.
- Pneumonia – While the bacteria in the mouth typically stays in the mouth, it can be drawn into the lungs during normal breathing. Once in the lungs, it can cause infections, including pneumonia.
- Endocarditis – This infection, which affects the inner linings of the heart, is usually caused by bacteria from a different part of the body. The bacteria use the circulatory system to travel from their original location to the heart. The presence of excessive amounts of bacteria in the mouth can cause just such an infection.
- Premature Birth – Periodontitis, a severe infection of the gums, has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight babies. Born before they are fully developed, these infants face many challenges in the first weeks of life and beyond.
We understand more now than we ever have about the inner workings of the human body. With all that we now know about the repercussions of poor dental health, it behooves us all to take care of our teeth and our mouths.
If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, there is no better time than the present to take charge of your health and make an appointment. If you are looking for a family dentist in Davis County, call us at Felt Family Dentistry. We’ll get you on your way to better health.