Your Oral Health is More Important Than You Know
Your oral health is essential. It is more important than most people realize. The mouth is intimately connected to the rest of the body. When the body is sick, the mouth may offer signs, symptoms, and clues as to the underlying causes. When the mouth is sick, the rest of the body can get sick too.
Taking care of one, directly and indirectly, helps to take care of the other. Scientists, doctors, and dental specialists are discovering more and more evidence that each system and subsystem within our bodies is hyper-connected to the whole. That’s why to live a long and healthy life; it’s more important than ever to prioritize a holistic approach to dental and oral care.
"The next time there’s something wrong, ask yourself this: could it be because of my mouth?"
--- DR. REZA KHAZAIE, DDS. PROSTHODONTIST
The Mouth Is the Entry Point for Nutrition
So how are the mouth, teeth, and tongue connected to brain, heart, stomach, and other systems and subsystems that make up the human body?
For starters, the mouth is the entry point for nutrition. What we eat reveals how healthy we are. Our mouths also offer clues about our eating habits. For example, diets high in simple carbs and refined sugars not only promote diabetes, obesity, and other major health problems, they are also tied to tooth decay, gum disease, and an oral microbiome rife with acid-spewing bacteria. Switching to a diet lower in sugars and higher in nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables make your teeth stronger and promotes a more balanced oral microbiome which, in turn, affects the rest of your body.
Did you know that there is substantial evidence that links consumption of processed meats, such as hot dogs, bologna, and ham, with migraines? That’s right, what you eat can give you a headache, along with heartburn, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, on top of oral issues such as halitosis and tooth decay.
Poor oral health is both a cause and indicator for many other common diseases and health problems. Patients with diabetes, for example, are also at risk for developing periodontal diseases since diabetes reduces the body’s ability to respond to infections. On the flip side, patients with gum disease have also been found to be more susceptible to developing diabetes.
Controlling periodontal disease through proper care, medication, and treatment also improved and regulated diabetes. As the relationship between diabetes and gum disease illustrates, the relationship between the mouth and the rest of the body isn’t purely cause and effect in one direction or the other. Rather, the health and wellbeing of one affects and informs the health and well being of the other. They are connected. Oral health is integral to your general health.
5 Significant Ways Oral Health Affects Your Body
1. Nutrition & Diet
What you eat directly affects the teeth and mouth, and indirectly affects every part of the body through nutrition. Poor diets, low in necessary nutrients lead to weaker teeth that are more susceptible to decay, breakage, and tooth loss.
Severe dental decay and tooth loss can, in turn, reduce a person’s ability to get the nutrition their bodies require. This is especially problematic for small children for whom adequate nutritional intake is crucial for proper development or for the elderly for whom nutrition is key to maintaining healthy immune systems.
Likewise, what’s right for teeth is useful for other parts of the body as well. Adequate calcium and potassium intake makes strong bones in the mouth and throughout the body.
Infections that begin in the mouth, such as periodontitis, are not contained in the oral cavity. In some cases, infectious agents such as bacteria and viruses can spread to other parts of the body via the cardiovascular system causing all kinds of harm and havoc.
In particular, there is a direct link between bacteria found in the mouth and a disease known as Endocarditis, or an infection of the inner lining of the heart known as the endocardium. If left untreated, endocarditis can lead to the destruction of heart tissues and eventually heart failure and death. One of the best ways to prevent endocarditis is to practice good oral hygiene and to aggressively treat periodontal diseases and infections in the mouth before they have the chance to spread to your heart.
Chronic infections are also linked to diseases of the lungs, strokes, and low birthweight amongst newborns.
3. Diabetes & Gum Disease
One of the signs of latent or full-blown diabetes is chronic gum disease. That’s because diabetes thickens blood vessels constricting flow. As a result, it takes longer for nutrients to go where they are needed and for harmful waste to be removed. Uncontrolled diabetes leads to a buildup of glucose in the mouth, as wells as a reduction in saliva production, which allows disease-causing germs to flourish.
4. Chronic Inflammation & Heart Disease
There is a substantial body of evidence and an acknowledgment in the greater medical community that chronic oral inflammation negatively affects the entire body. Inflammation as it pertains to the mouth often begins with a natural cellular response to some trauma or infection, such as tooth decay or periodontal disease.
However, many patients may have low-level inflammation in the form of gingivitis or periodontitis that persists for many years if not decades without adequate treatment. Research shows that the chronic inflammatory process plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s.
The next time there’s something wrong, ask yourself this: could it be because of my mouth?
5. Oral Microbiome
Our bodies are wonderfully complex and complicated creations composed of trillions of tiny cells. However, our bodies aren’t just a home for our cells. We also host, either willingly or unwillingly, a whole host of other tiny microbes including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other organisms that call us home (or at least a free ride). This is known as the human microbiome.
The average human adult microbiome consists of around 100 trillion bacterial cells. That’s a lot of non-body organisms that we interact with on a moment to moment basis. One sub-ecosystem of particular importance is the mouth. Our mouths contain a stunning variety of bacteria. Some are helpful, others harmless, and a few are particularly damaging and dangerous.
Part of maintaining a healthy and flourishing microbiome is to balance out the harmful bacteria with either good or harmless bacteria. Changes in the health or function of other parts of the body can affect the proportions of the various bacterial species in the mouth. Diabetes, for example, encourages the growth of bad bacteria. Likewise, a mouth that is out of balance thanks to a poor diet or poor oral hygiene can lead to oral diseases that affect the rest of the body, such as endocarditis. Carefully maintaining a healthy and balanced oral microbiome is critical to maintaining good overall functional health.