Authored by the Pennsylvania Dental Association
It’s not news that there is a significant link between one’s oral health and overall health. Though studies are ongoing, researchers have known for quite some time that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body.
“Your mouth is the entry point of many bacteria,” said Dr. Steven Grater, Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) member and general dentist from Harrisburg. “To keep this bacteria from going into your body, cleaning your mouth (brushing, flossing and rinsing) is necessary.”
PDA strives to educate the public about the role oral health plays in some systemic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and oral health complications during pregnancy. PDA wants you to know what you can do to keep your teeth, gums and body healthy.
Diabetics are more prone to several oral health conditions, including tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease, dry mouth and infection. According to “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General,” the relationship between type I and type II diabetes and periodontal disease has often been referred to as the “sixth complication” of the disease.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth, and is caused by plaque-forming bacteria in your mouth. In diabetics, it is often linked to how well a person’s diabetes is under control. Diabetic patients should contact their dentist immediately if they observe any of the symptoms of periodontal disease, including red, swollen or sore gums or gums that bleed easily or are pulling away from the teeth; chronic bad breath; teeth that are loose or separating; pus appearing between the teeth and gums; or changes in the alignment of the teeth.
Diabetic patients often suffer from dry mouth, which greatly increases their risk of developing periodontal disease. If you suffer from dry mouth, talk to your dentist. He or she may recommend chewing sugarless gum or mints, drinking water, sucking on ice chips or the use of an artificial saliva or oral rinse.
Studies also have shown that periodontal disease may be linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, preterm births and low-birth weight babies. Research suggests that people with periodontal disease are nearly three times as likely to suffer from heart disease. Oral bacteria can affect the heart when it enters the blood stream, attaching to fatty plaques in the heart’s blood vessels and contributing to the formation of clots.
Due to the increase in hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone, pregnant women are at greater risk to develop inflamed gums, which if left untreated can lead to periodontal disease. A five-year study conducted at the University of North Carolina found that pregnant women with periodontal disease are seven times more likely to deliver a premature, low-birth-weight baby.
Oral health problems can cause more than just pain and suffering. They can lead to difficulty speaking, chewing and swallowing, affecting your ability to consume the nutrition your body needs to stay healthy, participate in daily activities and interact with others. Poor nutrition also can lead to tooth decay and obesity. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Buffalo examined 65 children, ages two through five, who were treated for cavities in their baby teeth. Nearly 28 percent of them had a body-mass index indicating they were either overweight or obese.
To keep your teeth, gums and body healthy, PDA recommends the following:
- Provide your dentist with a complete health history, including any illnesses and medication use.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily to help remove plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that gets stuck between your teeth and under your gums.
- Visit your dentist regularly for a checkup and professional cleaning to help prevent any problems and detect possible problems in their early stages. The mouth is often the location used to diagnose a variety of diseases.
- Eat a well balanced diet, which will help you maintain a healthier immune system, help prevent heart disease and slow diabetes disease progression.
- If you smoke, talk to your dentist about options for quitting.
“A clean mouth will lead to a clean body,” Dr. Grater said. “Although you clean your mouth every day at home, regular checkups to the dentist will prevent additional disease that can likely cause you to be sick.”