What’s the Connection? The Oral-Systemic Link

Did you know that your oral health can tell a lot about your overall health? And vice versa?

It’s true. Your mouth is a window to what is happening in your body, and your oral health is more important than you may realize in terms of its impact on your general health. The connection between the mouth and body is known as the oral-systemic connection.

That’s why we stress the importance of taking care of your teeth by brushing, flossing and visiting us for exams and professional cleanings.

So, What’s the Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health?

The theory of the oral-systemic link is not new: A landmark 1954 study first showed that the germs that can cause gum disease frequently enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, causing illness.

Just like the other areas of your body, your mouth is full of bacteria. Don’t panic; the majority of the bacteria is mostly harmless.

That said, your mouth is the point of entry to both your digestive and respiratory tracts, so when an illness-causing bacteria enters your mouth, it can mean diseases like pneumonia, endocarditis and even digestive disorders.

In most cases, your immune system and good oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing daily are enough to keep bacteria levels under control.

But if you’re not practicing good oral hygiene, these bacteria levels can rise and contribute to the development of oral infections, including tooth decay and gum disease.

If left unchecked, these high bacteria levels can also cause increased inflammation levels and trigger diseases, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiac conditions.

Conversely, certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, reduce the body’s ability to fight off infection, making oral health problems more severe.

What Conditions Are Linked to Poor Oral Health?

Some oral health issues have been found to contribute to diseases and conditions, including:

Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the chambers and valves of your heart, known as the endocardium. This infection develops when bacteria from the mouth spread to the endocardium through your bloodstream.

Cardiovascular disease. Oral infection can cause increased inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to a higher risk of stroke.

Additionally, some connection has been shown between oral health problems and heart disease/atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

Pregnancy and birth complications. Periodontal disease has been linked to premature birth, low birth weight in babies, and higher levels of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes in expecting mothers.

Pneumonia. As we mentioned above, when some illness-causing bacteria invade the mouth, they can be breathed into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory conditions.

Some cancers. Some studies have shown that the bacteria in the mouth that cause periodontal disease are present in the same body areas affected by cancer in some individuals, such as the stomach, esophagus and intestines.

What Conditions Contribute to Poor Oral Health?

Diabetes. Diabetes contributes to the development of gum disease because it weakens the body’s immune system. Analysis of data taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that 27 to 53 percent of cases of periodontal disease are in patients with undiagnosed diabetes.

HIV/AIDS. People with HIV/AIDS frequently experience painful mucosal lesions and inflammation of mouth tissues.

Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to weaken and has been connected to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Additionally, some of the drugs used to treat osteoporosis can cause damage to the jaw.

Some other conditions linked to oral health issues include autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome, as well as eating disorders. Some cancers can also negatively affect the mouth.

If you’re living with an illness, it’s essential to share your health history as well as what medications you’re taking so that we can help effectively treat you.

Ways to Protect Oral Health

To protect your oral health, and protect the oral-systemic connection, we recommend that you practice good oral hygiene daily by:

  • Brushing your teeth at least twice with a soft-bristled brush using a fluoride toothpaste for at least two minutes
  • Flossing at least once
  • Using mouthwash to rinse away any food particles left after brushing and flossing
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Replacing your toothbrush every three months or when bristles are splayed or worn
  • Scheduling dental checkups and cleanings at least twice a year
  • Avoiding tobacco and nicotine use (smoking, chewing/dipping and vaping)

We also recommend that if you notice an oral health problem, you should contact us as soon as possible to check it out.

If you have a question about your oral health or concerns over your overall health and how it affects your oral health, schedule a consultation with us. We’d love to discuss your oral-systemic connection with you.