A Look at the Mouth-Body Connection When It Comes to Your Health
Most people understand the importance of regularly brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist to prevent cavities and other oral health problems. However, many people don’t realize that oral health is connected to all parts of the body, not just the mouth.
Here’s a look at the connection between oral health and overall physical health, along with conditions that are linked to oral health.
The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health
Since your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body, the health of your mouth is directly linked to the overall health of your body. Our mouths are full of bacteria that are usually harmless and kept under control with regular brushing, flossing, and professional dental cleanings. But when these bacteria are not cleaned away, they can multiply and create oral health problems.
Bacteria feed on sugars from food particles, creating acids that wear down tooth enamel, eventually causing cavities and tooth decay.
A buildup of bacteria at and below the gum line will also irritate the gums, making them prone to infection and inflammation—also known as gum disease. This inflammation and the chemicals it produces will eat away at the gums and bone structures that hold teeth in place, eventually progressing to severe periodontitis.
In a healthy mouth with no infection, there is a tightly closed seal (made of fibers pulling the gums around the neck of the tooth) that keeps mouth bacteria out of the bloodstream. But when there is an infection, the gum seal pulls away from the teeth, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream and causing the immune system to work in overtime.
So when left to multiply with poor oral hygiene, bacteria can cause infections in the teeth and gums, and eventually spread to the jaw bone and other parts of the body through the bloodstream, airway, and digestive tract.
Conditions That Can Be Linked to Oral Health
The following health conditions have been linked to poor oral health:
Poor oral health can increase your risk of heart disease. Without regular brushing and flossing, plaque (a film of bacteria) builds up on the teeth and infects the gums, causing gum disease.
This oral plaque bacteria can then get into the bloodstream and reach the heart. And this bacteria can lead to an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves—a heart condition called endocarditis.
Inflammation in the mouth can also cause inflammation in blood vessels, increasing the risk of a heart attack. Inflamed blood vessels reduce the blood flow between the heart and the rest of the body, causing an increase in blood pressure. And fatty plaque can break off the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Maintaining good oral health is essential for those with diabetes because diabetes can both cause and become complicated by gum disease.
High blood sugar exacerbates mouth infections, causing more inflammation. And severe gum inflammation (periodontitis) can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb insulin medication and lower blood sugar levels.
With periodontitis, the gums become so inflamed that they pull away from the teeth and form gaps (pockets) that fill with bacteria, leading to more severe infections of the gums and jawbone and potential tooth loss.
A build-up of bacteria in your mouth can also reach your lungs when you breathe in air. If this bacteria reaches your lungs, it can cause pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Pneumonia can be especially life-threatening for older people, so it’s important to take care of your teeth or dentures.
Pregnancy hormones can worsen dental problems, and the bacterial infection of periodontitis can put babies at risk. Pregnant mothers with periodontitis are at an increased risk of having their babies born prematurely or with a low birth rate.
Furthermore, babies who are born too early or with a low birth rate often have serious health problems due to the interference of fetus development, such as lung and heart problems and learning disorders.
Some studies have found that those with osteoporosis have a higher rate of gum disease than those who don’t have osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis and periodontitis both lead to bone loss. Those with osteoporosis have a lower bone density that causes bones to weaken and fracture more easily. As with periodontitis, osteoporosis may also affect the bone density of the jaw bone. So it is important to maintain good oral health to prevent the risk of bone loss in the jaw and a weakened jaw bone.
Studies have found a link between obesity and gum disease, specifically that the presence of higher body fat causes periodontitis to progress faster.
A study looking at the synovial fluid in the joints of people with knee arthritis found oral gum bacteria in this joint fluid, suggesting that oral bacteria can lead to or worsen arthritis.
Treating periodontal disease has also been found to reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Along with pneumonia, periodontal disease can worsen other lung conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, by causing an increase in bacteria that enter the lungs.
Tips for Maintaining Good Oral Health
In order maintain good oral health and overall physical health, be sure to follow these tips:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
- Floss daily, preferably before bed
- Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after flossing and brushing
- Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are worn
- Eat a healthy diet and limit sugary foods and drinks
- Avoid tobacco
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular checkups and dental cleanings
Maintaining good health starts with practicing good oral health habits. You can exercise, eat right, stay hydrated, and get enough sleep. But if you don’t take care of your oral health, you will still be at risk of developing both oral and physical health conditions.
So don’t neglect your oral health. And remember, your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body.