We all want to be happy and healthy. And we all know that our overall health is affected by things like diet and exercise. But there are other things that can affect our overall health, too. One of the most surprising? Oral health.
It’s a little counterintuitive to think that your oral health could impact your overall health. If anything, it should be the other way around, right? But more and more, we’re discovering how a healthy mouth can be an indicator for a healthy body in general.
Here’s how oral health impacts overall health.
A bacteria story
There’s bacteria everywhere on and in your body. In fact, your body is made up of at least as many bacteria and other microbes as it is of human cells. Your mouth is no exception: it’s full of bacteria, most of which isn’t going to cause any major problems. That said, your mouth is the gateway to other parts of the body (like the respiratory and digestive tracts), which means that bacteria in the mouth could easily make their way to other parts of the body and potentially make you sick.
Good oral hygiene habits—like brushing, flossing, and regular visits to your dentist—help keep these bacteria’s from getting out of hand.
Periodontitis and inflammation
Periodontitis, or gum disease, causes inflammation of the gums. This inflammation can also cause or indicate problems in the rest of the body. In fact, one study showed that “people with serious gum disease were 40% more likely to have a chronic condition” in addition to the gum disease (source).
One of the chronic conditions most commonly associated with gum disease is diabetes. This could be because inflammation in the mouth can weaken the whole body’s ability to control blood sugar. Diabetes can also increase your chances for developing gum disease, meaning that this relationship goes both ways.
Other diseases linked to oral health
While there is still much to learn about how oral health impacts overall health (and vice versa), there is a lot of evidence that suggests correlation between an unhealthy mouth and an unhealthy body.
Periodontitis, in particular, is linked to several problems, along with diabetes. These include:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Pregnancy and birth complications
Oral health as an indicator of health problems
It’s not clear yet if these diseases or conditions cause oral health problems, or the other way around. However, because there is a strong link between oral health and overall health, oral health problems can help lead to the identification and diagnosis of more severe health conditions, including HIV infections, AIDS, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The connection between oral health and overall health makes it even more critical to visit your dentist regularly and often. Your dentist can help you identify what oral health problems you’re facing, can tell you whether or not they might indicate overall health problems, and can help you care for your mouth, teeth, and gums in a thorough and effective way.
If you’re concerned about your oral health, talk to your dentist. Working together, you can help keep your smile (and your body) healthy for years to come.