We all know that regular dental care is important for our teeth and gums. But how often do we think about the connection between oral health and overall health?
“The mouth is the gateway to the body and we want to keep our whole body as healthy as possible,” says Guelph Village Dental’s Dr. Ketan Mistry. We rely on dentists for care of our mouths and family physicians for the care of our bodies; but the mouth and the body have a two-way connection. Problems in the mouth can reflect and even lead to problems in other areas of the body and vice versa.
Oral diseases are chronic diseases in their own right. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diseases of the mouth share common risk factors with the four top chronic diseases. Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes share risk factors such as an unhealthy diet, use of tobacco and alcohol abuse. Poor oral hygiene is also a risk factor.
Why is oral health important to the body?
“With our patients, we stress there’s always ongoing research on bacteria entering your bloodstream through your mouth, so the best thing you can do is practice good oral hygiene,” Dr. Mistry notes. One study concluded that the same bacteria found in dental plaque and known to cause periodontitis was also associated with an increase in blood vessel thickening.
The two biggest oral health conditions – periodontal (gum) disease and dental caries (tooth decay) are both chronic (long-lasting or recurring) and systemic (affecting the whole body) diseases. According to WHO, if you have good oral health, that means you’re free from chronic mouth and facial pain, oral and throat cancers, oral sores, gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss and other diseases that affect the mouth.
Studies have linked gum disease with certain forms of heart disease and respiratory diseases. According to Health Canada, the bacteria found in plaque can be inhaled into the lungs and may cause infection or aggravate an existing lung condition. Poor oral health in pregnant women may also increase the risk of premature, low birth weight babies.
“One of the things we do with all our exams is an oral cancer screening – looking for lumps or bumps or discoloured areas hiding in corners of your mouth,” Dr. Mistry says. “Other types of pathology or disease, such as autoimmune diseases, sometimes have earlier showings in the mouth.”
Poor oral health and diabetes
“People who are diabetic are more susceptible to gum disease or tooth infection,” Dr. Mistry says. In turn, the pain, discomfort and loss of teeth that may come from these oral conditions can lead to a poor diet and further nutritional deficiencies. Periodontal disease has also been tied to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The body’s inflammatory response to periodontal bacteria is believed to contribute to insulin resistance.
How to maintain good oral health and reduce your risk for other diseases
- Brush your teeth for two minutes at least twice per day.
- Floss once daily to remove plaque between your teeth.
- Mouthwash can be helpful.
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
- Check your teeth, gums and mouth regularly for changes or problems.
- Visit your dentist regularly.
- Get adequate physical exercise and eat healthy foods.