Articles and Information

Picture1 4
Dr. Alejandro Barrera

Most of us know that poor oral health can lead to problems such as cavities, gum disease, bad breath, and severe pain. However, did you know that the health of your teeth and gums can offer clues to your overall health? Additionally, problems in our mouths can often lead to problems in our overall health.

What is the connection between oral health and overall health?

While you cannot see or taste them, your mouth is home to millions of microbes, including germs like fungus and bacteria. While this may sound scary, most of these microbes are harmless and many of them are even helpful. However, the mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and some of these bacteria can cause disease in other parts of the body.

Normally the body’s natural immune system and good oral health care keep the bacteria under control. However, without good oral hygiene, the bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.

Additionally, certain medications like decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbes that multiply and lead to disease.

Research has found that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with a severe form of gum disease (periodontitis) plays a role in some medical diseases. Having certain diseases such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.

What conditions can be linked to oral health?

  • Endocarditis: This infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves can occur when germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart. This is why someone who has had heart surgery or an artificial heart valve needs to take antibiotics before any form of dental treatment.
  • Heart Disease: Research shows that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke might be linked to the same inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
  • Pregnancy: Having gum disease while pregnant has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Pneumonia: Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
  • Diabetes: By reducing the body’s resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. People who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels. Regular gum care can actually improve diabetes control!
  • HIV/AIDS: Painful ulcers, rare infections, and certain oral cancers are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw. Therefore, it is very important to see a dentist before starting any treatment for osteoporosis.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

Other conditions that are linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and immune system disorders that cause dry mouth. This is why it is important to be open and honest with your dentist about all health diagnoses and medications you’re taking.

How can I protect my oral health?

To protect your oral health, it’s important to practice good oral hygiene and to have a dentist that you see at least every 6 months.

Additionally, follow these tips:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars
  • Replace your toothbrush every three months
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
  • Avoid smoking

As a reminder, it is important to see a dentist as soon as a dental problem arises. Most dental problems are preventable. The sooner a problem is addressed, the less pain and the less of a financial burden you will experience.

The information contained in this Avenue 360 Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and Avenue 360 recommends consultation with your Avenue 360 doctor or health care professional.