Your dentist has been urging you to brush twice a day and floss daily since you were a kid. While these habits are key to keeping your teeth and gums healthy, it turns out that how well you take care of your mouth can actually affect your entire body.
Not only can your oral health offer clues about the rest of your body, but problems in your mouth can affect your overall health. The mouth-body connection is more important than you might realize. Regular dental care is vitally important in the management of your overall health.
So, what is the connection?
Your mouth is the gateway to your body. Like many areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria. Most of these bacteria are harmless, and normally the body’s natural defenses and good oral hygiene can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper dental health care, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Studies suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with severe gum disease might play a role in other diseases. In addition, certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe. Your saliva protects you from microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease, by washing away food and neutralizing acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. Certain medications – such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics – can reduce saliva flow, which diminishes this defensive mechanism.
Why it matters
The American Academy of Periodontology states that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease. Another study published in the Journal of Periodontology uncovered a suspected link between periodontal disease and pulmonary disease, such as pneumonia and acute bronchitis. A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found a relationship between people who lost more teeth before the age of 35 and an increased risk of dementia.
Because of these potential links, you should tell your dentist if you’re taking any medications or have had any changes in your overall health, especially if you’ve had any recent illnesses or you have a chronic condition such as diabetes. To protect your oral health, you should practice good dental hygiene every day, and contact your dentist as soon as any problem in your mouth arises. Remember, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.