Finding the link
Often, we hear about the mind, body, and soul connection, or the mind-body connection, but have you heard of the mouth and body connection? Most people think their dental visit is about their oral health, and it is for the most part. Your visit, however, is not just about your teeth, its about your overall health. The state of your teeth, gums, and lips offer clues to how the rest of your body is doing. You see, what goes on in the rest of your body can, and usually does affect your teeth. Like the eyes to the soul, your mouth is a window to the health of your body.
Many diseases and illnesses can cause oral problems, and the reverse is also true. The American Heart Association published a statement in April 2012 supporting an association between gum disease and heart disease. Gum disease results in the kind of inflammation that has been shown to contribute to heart disease and diabetes. In recent years, the connection between oral health and overall health has peaked interest in the health community. In one recent study, people with serious gum disease were 40% more likely to have a chronic condition on top of it.That is definitely worth further research.
Understanding the connection
Studies show that the mouth can indeed affect the body, but to understand how, we need to know what can go wrong from the start. When we skip out on brushing our teeth, or even fail to do it properly, bacteria can build up on the teeth. Over time, plaque, the buildup of bacteria, causes an immune response, resulting in gingivitis or inflammation. About 35% of U.S. adults have some form of perionditis or severe inflammation. Another 50% have gingivitis which is the beginning of gum disease; the mildest form of gum disease. Inflammation will continue as long as it goes uncared for. Over time, it causes a chemical release that weakens the enamel and bone structure of your teeth and gums, down to the root. This results in… you guessed it… gum disease and tooth decay. Not only does regular inflammation of the teeth affect your body, but so do oral infections such as cold sores or ulcers, also known as “canker sores.” Weakened immunity can often result in mouth sores which cause much pain and discomfort. Like the snowball effect, once you have mouth sores it becomes painful to brush and bacteria tends to build on the teeth.
One of the most common health conditions in America is Heart Disease. Perhaps more common due to the connection with chronic gum disease and the increase of this oral condition. In heart disease, one theory is that chronic, ongoing gum disease can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream where they attach to the fatty deposits in the heart blood vessels. Anytime bleeding occurs in the mouth, certain oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream and may settle on abnormal heart valves or tissue weakened by an existing heart problem or heart condition.This can then cause blood clots and may lead to heart attacks.
Though the connection is still not fully understood, it is quite clear that the conditions go hand in hand. Recent studies have shown that over 90% of patients with heart disease have gum disease, while over 60% have gum disease without heart disease. Some suspect that perionditis has a direct role in raising the risk of heart disease, especially since they both have common risk factors such as unhealthy diet, smoking, and excess weight.
Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to serious gum disease, but serious gum disease may have the potential to affect blood glucose control and contribute to the progression of diabetes. Inflammation that starts in the mouth seems to weaken the body’s ability to control blood sugar. People with diabetes have trouble processing sugar because of a lack of insulin: the hormone that converts sugar into energy. Risk increases for serious gum disease due to the decreased ability to fight bacteria that invade the gums. You could say there is a two-way relationship. High blood sugar provides ideal conditions for infection to grow, including gum infections. This relationship can be used to your favor: managing one can help bring the other under control.
It doesn’t end here
While Heart Disease and Diabetes may seem so extreme a condition to develop from gum inflammation, the list of ailments doesn’t end there. Even pregnancy, though not a ailment, causes changes and susceptibility in the mother’s teeth due to hormone changes. Your body is one big puzzle piece and everything is connected. So why does this information about such serious conditions matter? Because, these conditions don’t develop overnight, they are developed over time and often, it starts with lack of dental care and education about oral hygiene Teach your children now about the importance of oral hygiene and help them develop healthy habits that will serve them well in life and avoid the ailments that can manifest later in their lives. Eating a balanced diet, seeing your dentist regularly, and good oral hygiene helps reduce your risks of tooth decay and gum disease. Make sure you brush twice a day and floss once a day!