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Holistic Health: Why a Healthy Mouth is Good for Your Body

Oral Health and Overall Health

When you think of good oral health, it’s natural to think cosmetically of pearly white teeth.  Of course, good oral and dental hygiene can help prevent bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease—and can help you keep your teeth as you get older.

But you may be surprised just how closely linked your mouth is to your overall health and well being…

Bacteria, Inflammation & Oral Care

Like many areas of the body, your mouth is filled with bacteria — most of them harmless.

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

Studies also suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis — a severe form of gum disease — might play a role in some diseases. In addition, certain diseases, such as diabetes, can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.

How Does Your Dental Care Impact Other Diseases?

According to the Mayo Clinic, your oral health might contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:

  • Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
  • Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
  • Pregnancy and birth. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.

How Do Other Diseases Impact Your Oral Health?

On the flipside, some conditions elsewhere in your body can have a direct impact on your dental health, including:

  • Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels, and that regular periodontal care can improve diabetes control.
  • HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
  • Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis — which causes bones to become weak and brittle — might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
  • Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, head and neck cancers, and Sjogren’s syndrome — an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth.

Because of these potential links, tell your dentist if you’re taking any medications or have had any changes in your overall health — especially if you’ve had any recent illnesses or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes.

“Periodontal disease is now recognized by the cardiology community to be a direct risk factor for coronary arterial disease, peripheral arterial disease and stroke,” says Sam Shamardi, a dentist at the Boston Center for Oral Health and clinical instructor in the Harvard School of Dental Medicine’s division of periodontology. “The common link to these and other diseases is inflammation.”

That’s because people with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease, and vice versa. “Periodontal disease and diabetes feed off each other,” Shamardi says. “Poorly controlled diabetes will worsen periodontal disease, and poorly controlled periodontal disease will worsen people’s diabetes.”

Want to be Healthy? Start with Your Mouth

In the first-ever oral health report in 2000, the Surgeon General declared that the “mouth is the center of vital tissues and functions that are critical to total health and well-being across the life span.”

If you didn’t already have enough reasons to take good care of your mouth, teeth and gums, the relationship between your oral health and your overall health really drive home the importance. Resolve to practice good oral hygiene every day, and contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises.

Clearly, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.

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