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How does the health of my mouth affect the rest of my body and overall health?

April 16, 2021

The ‘dental’ and overall aspects of our body and health have become artificially separated over the past hundred years or more as the professions of medicine and dentistry were arbitrarily separated. The fact that ‘dental’ and ‘medical’ insurances are separate and most dental procedures are not covered to the same extent as medical ones has not helped. Most of us have come to believe that dental care is relatively less important and secondary to medical care.

However, the artificial man-made divisions created between medicine and dentistry have not changed the fact that the mouth, including teeth, gums, tongue, tissues of the mouth and jaws all are very much connected to the rest of the body! In fact, the mouth serves as the ‘gateway’ to the body and all infections and inflammation from the mouth impact every other part of our body and health, including our brains, hearts, lungs, joints, blood sugar levels, etc. to name just a few. As such, it is impossible to have good health without a healthy mouth with strong, healthy teeth, gums, bone, tissues and tongue.

The mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of the body as the tissues of the mouth have more nerves per unit area than almost anywhere else in the body. This is so as the Gateway to the rest of the body needs to provide protection against any dangerous objects from entering the body. However, this very aspect of the mouth lends itself to keeping many of us from visiting our dentist regularly. The ‘pain’ we may remember from a childhood visit to the dental office remains vivid in our memories and comes rushing back whenever anyone mentions the word, ‘dentist.’ However, regular visits to the dentist for check-ups and cleanings are essential to keep our mouths healthy. At these routine visits, dentists screen the mouth for any signs of gum disease, oral cancer and cavities. Not only that, they are able to detect signs of unwanted tooth wear, which is the result of clenching and grinding our teeth. Cleaning the calculus (tartar) from under the gums helps remove the irritants which cause inflammation and gum and bone disease in the mouth.

The inflammation as well as bacteria from the mouth have been shown to spread readily to other parts of the body such as the brain, heart, lungs and our joints, to name a few. Before you set up your hip or knee replacement surgery, it is critical to visit your dentist and have your mouth checked for any signs of inflammation or disease. Infections stemming from the mouth can easily travel to artificial joints and create serious problems. Even if you do not have artificial joints or have no need for replacements, inflammation and or infection from the mouth traveling to the joints has been shown to be related to arthritis. Every time you brush your teeth, bacteria from the plaque around your teeth get pumped into the blood supply. This should really motivate you to keep your teeth brushed every 12 hours and cleaned by your dental team regularly.

Infections from an abscessed tooth can escape and travel to the brain or heart. This can be shown when the cultures from a brain abscess or a heart valve infection show bacteria that grow in dental abscesses. If you have pain or swelling in the mouth, it could be an abscess. It is critical to have it checked out and treated to prevent any serious complications.

As the incidence of overweight, obesity and diabetes increase in our society, it is important to reflect on the relationship between blood glucose control and inflammation in the mouth. It has been shown that inflammatory factors from the mouth do not allow for good control of blood glucose levels. On the other hand, elevated levels of blood glucose lend themselves to poor healing capacity, recurrent infections and the increased probability of infections and inflammation in the mouth. Not only that, but high blood glucose levels have been shown to be related to higher incidence of dental cavities. If you have high blood glucose levels, it is very important to take great care of your mouth and maintain a regular dental preventive visit schedule.

Elevated blood sugar levels in diabetes as well as hundreds of commonly prescribed medications lead to a dry mouth. Saliva is one the most important protective factors in the mouth that buffers the acids in the mouth and protects against dental cavities. A dry mouth can lead to a rampant increase in the number of active dental cavities. If you have noted a dry mouth, it is critical to visit your dentist and ge their help in combating its effects.

Much research has been done on the connection between inflammation in the mouth and pre-term, low birth weight babies. Some studies have shown a decrease in the risk of pre-term low birth weight babies when pregnant women get regular dental cleanings. Although there is some debate over these studies, it has been shown over and over again that mothers who have a higher number of dental cavities ‘pass’ these bugs through their saliva to their babies. When the baby gets their first teeth, they are more likely to have cavities if the mother has untreated cavities. This risk continues on to the babies’ permanent teeth! All these studies point to the paramount importance of a woman seeking dental care before and during pregnancy.

Some recent work shows connections between inflammation in the mouth and Alzheimer’s disease. Those with poor oral health were found to be at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. So, it is not only dental cavities and gum disease that you prevent when you take good care of your mouth, it is your entire body and mind!

With the stresses in our daily lives, many of us clench and grind our teeth. This not only affects our temporo-mandibular joints (TMJs), it also causes wear of the hardest substance in the human body- our enamel. Over time, the wear of enamel may lead to shortening of the teeth and a collapse of the bite. Regular dental visits may help catch this condition early. Your dentist may be able to build up lost tooth structure and give you a ‘guard’ to prevent further wear when you clench or grind.

So, even if you retain some painful childhood memories from a dental visit or two, you may need to visit your dentist regularly to maintain good overall health of your body and mind. It goes without saying that a healthy and beautiful smile is critical for your self-image and confidence and a healthy mouth is important for good communication.

Staunton Family Dentistry prides itself on providing individualized comprehensive care. Call us to set up a consultation appointment!