It is often surprising to find out about the benefits of maintaining a good oral health and dental hygiene regimen has far reaching benefits, beyond the mouth.
Your oral health can majorly influence your overall health conditions, medical costs and bills, and your quality of life as a whole. “The significance of the mouth as part of our health is often overlooked and underappreciated,” says Dr. Caswell Evans, Associate Dean for Prevention and Public Health Sciences, UIC College of Dentistry. “Our vision of ourselves, how we are seen by others, and even our employment is influenced by our oral appearance,” says Evans, who is known to have written extensively on the adverse effects of poor oral health on public health.
What’s the connection between oral health and overall health?
Your mouth has the tendency to team up with bacteria, like many other parts of your body- mostly harmless. Your mouth also happens to be the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, through which some unwanted bacteria might enter and wreak havoc inside the body.
The body’s natural defence mechanism paired up with a goof oral care regimen, like brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing it keeps the harmful and the unwanted bacteria under control. Without a proper regimen however, that becomes difficult. That bacteria can grow and reproduce leading to oral infections, tooth decay and gum disease.
Again, there are certain medicines including decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants, can reduce the production of the saliva inside the mouth, which is responsible to flush out the harmful and disease-causing microbes from your mouth.
Gum diseases and severe inflammation can be directly tracked back to the oral bacteria present inside the mouth. Patients with certain diseases like diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can destroy the immunity system or the body’s resistance to infection, aggravating the effects of the oral problems.
Oral health is a leading health indicator
Healthy People 2020 is the federal government’s prevention agenda for building a healthier nation. It identified that oral health ranks among the first 10 health indicators, along with the others like access to health, nutrition, cancer, HIV and, coronary or cardiac diseases. Good oral health not only helps you function as a better human being , including regular activities like speaking, smiling and eating, but plays an important role in communication, maintaining social relationships and financial prosperity. Whereas, poor oral health conditions can cost you a lot, including painful, permanent, often disabling and obviously expensive health conditions.
For people with obstacles in getting access to proper dental care, people in the rural areas and lower income households, this is specifically true. The surveys conducted by the ADA’s Health Policy institute claims that one out of all lower income adults complain about the poor conditions of their mouth and teeth, and one out of every three of them complain about their dental conditions affects their confidence and ability to interview for a job.
Certain conditions that effect your oral health, like hygiene and diet are the controllable ones with the right kind of habits. Tooth decay or the occurrence of cavities is one of the most common and chronic diseases among the children. However, it is preventable with proper and healthy choices and habits. Cavities are a result of consistent plaque build up on the surface of the teeth, so is gingivitis and other gum diseases that can not only harm our oral health conditions, but can also severely damage other systems and parts in our body.
An ever-expanding corpus of research has been able to establish a direct link between oral and chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other serious health conditions concerning millions of people. A recent study is working to disclosing the mystery behind the onset of Alzheimer’s disease to construct a way for newer treatment procedures to bridge the gap between medical and dental sciences, that have been traditionally separated since time immemorial. The primary aim is to utilise these findings to mitigate the risks of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, specially with age.
In the recent scientific experiment that was conducted, found that the mice that were exposed to the gum disease bacteria exhibited signs of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, similar to the kind of signs that we find in human beings. The mice who belonged to the control group, on the other hand, did not show any such signs. To add to this, they discovered the presence of a periodontal product or pathogen within the neurons in the brains of the mice that were exposed to the bacteria in the first place.
The results obtained from these experiments were surprising even for the scientists. It also served as a breakthrough in our general understanding of the Alzheimer’s disease. they weren’t expecting to witness the huge amount of impact that the gum disease causing pathogens have on the brain, or that the results would be almost be similar to that of the Alzheimer’s disease found in the humans.
This research also helped establish a clear animal model relationship between periodontitis or gum disease and AD, that functioned as the groundwork for conducting other related clinical research and to meet therapeutic needs.
The use of mice also brings in additional clarity in the findings because animal models don’t have the confounding variables that can affect human studies, including factors like varying diets, obesity and exercise levels.
Studying the brain to fight periodontitis
The impact of periodontitis can be pretty serious, and what we now about it as of now, is possibly only the tip of the iceberg. It was previously discovered that periodontitis can ever have severe impacts on brain’s metabolism, besides interfering with the smooth functioning of the liver and the heart. Many other researchers have also found periodontal pathogens in post-mortem human brains.
The link between periodontal disease and your overall health
The condition of our oral health is intricately related with the condition of our overall health. There happens to be multiple variables that cause or increase the risk of periodontal or gum diseases. Genetics, unhealthy diet, unhealthy habits such as smoking, and poor oral hygiene all of these factors act as the catalysts in creating the conditions that may lead to periodontal disease.
Genetics and other corelated variables also play a massive role in influencing how a body reacts to particular diseases and their corresponding treatments. Research studies have found out about a direct link between periodontitis, obesity and type 2 diabetes. We are aware of how obesity heightens the risks for several chronic diseases including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidaemia and coronary heart disease.
Links between periodontal (gum) disease and pre-diabetes
Researchers have also proven scientifically that exposure to periodontal or gum disease causing bacteria and the development of diabetes in mice. Pre- diabetes is the formative stone of diabetes, and is an indication that you might develop type 2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes happens when the level of blood glucose or the blood sugar level gets higher than normal, but not that high to be classified as diabetic.
There are multiple potential health ramifications of a gum disease or periodontitis. Almost half of the adult population, above 30 years old, which is around 65 million people struggle with periodontitis. Gum disease being one of the most common and chronic disease, is largely preventable.
Researchers and scientists have also tested how periodontitis affects the pancreatic and the liver cells that could inevitably lead to prediabetic or diabetic conditions. The periodontal pathogen that was introduced into the mouth of the mice or a product from this pathogen influenced the pancreatic alpha and the beta cells, and also the liver’s Kupffer cells. And those two organs are very critical in the development of prediabetes/diabetes and maintaining health.
The concerned research team also talked about how the mice with prolonged exposure to periodontal bacteria developed conditions that lead them to resist insulin and become glucose intolerant- again two of the major tale-tell signs of prediabetes. Rats with mutation have also exhibited tendencies to develop obesity and eventual diabetes, and the process was accelerated with the introduction of the gum disease causing bacteria in their mouth.
The Oral-Systemic Connection
An oral-systemic connection is described as the correlation between diseases and conditions of the mouth, and medical conditions of the body. A few medical situations are known to have prior oral manifestations. Visiting the dentists at regular intervals and maintain a personal oral hygiene regimen is an integral part of having a healthy oral environment and preventing the harmful from breeding and growing, which not only can cause gum diseases , but can also harm other parts of the body.
The following is a partial list of medical conditions, viruses and diseases that have an oral-systemic connection:
AIDS: Intra-oral hairy leukoplakia (white patches on tongue and inner check) and Kaposi Sarcoma are two of indicators for AIDS.
Pemphigus and lichen planus (auto-immune diseases) have oral manifestations.
People struggling with diabetes who also happen to struggle with periodontal disease might suffer excessive bone loss of the jaw or surrounding bone structure and have difficulties in healing.
Fanconi Anaemia is a rare genetic condition that can be characterised by short stature, myelosuppression (diminished bone marrow activity) and the development of oral cancer in young adults. This genetic disorder is also known to increase the risks of periodontal diseases and other dental anomalies.
There happen to be umpteen sets of evidences connecting oral microbes and heart diseases and stroke directly. Eleven bacteria, 5 – 6 of them being extremely pathologic, have been identified as playing a significant role in heart disease and cardiac arrest. it is with the help of DNA testing that the harmful bacteria that have been found in the walls of the mouth have also been identified inside the walls of the coronary arteries, causing lesions and inflammations.
Human Papilloma Virus:
Human papilloma: This virus has been directly associated to oropharyngeal cancer as found out in a recent study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers published the results of a study in 2007 linking periodontal disease to an increased risk for pancreatic cancer. Cancer of the pancreas is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with a five-year survival rate of less than five percent. Additionally, the bacteria found in coronary arteries and blood clots have been linked to these tumours and Alzheimer’s patients’ brains.
Heart disease and stroke:
These oral microbes and host responses may play a role in causing heart disease and stroke. Strokes have been linked to periodontal disease in recent studies.
People with HIV/AIDS often experience oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions.
Osteoporosis is a bone-weakening disease linked to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. There is a small risk of damage to the jaw bones when certain drugs are used to treat osteoporosis.
When Alzheimer’s disease progresses, oral health deteriorates.
Oral health can also be affected by eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, and an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth (Sjogren’s syndrome).
Especially if you have recently been ill or have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, let your dentist know about the medications you are taking.
People with special dental needs receive special dental care
Among the types of dental care necessary for people with unique considerations to avoid a negative oral-systemic effect are:
Those taking bisphosphonates (like Boniva, Fosamax) have to maintain their oral health to prevent osteonecrosis of the jaw, a serious complication. Bisphosphonates tend to cause this condition more frequently among intravenous users, with rates ranging from 5 to 10 percent, though it has also been linked to oral bisphosphonates.
Patients with cancer must have all dental procedures completed before starting radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Patients receiving more potent bisphosphonates must maintain their oral health to avoid osteonecrosis of the jaw, a serious complication.
For women who are receiving bisphosphonates for osteoporosis, it is important to maintain good oral health to prevent osteonecrosis of the jaw.
If pregnant women or women considering pregnancy have periodontal disease (gum disease), they should seek treatment. Research has found that women with periodontal disease often give birth to smaller babies or have more complications during pregnancy.
Symptoms of pneumonia. The bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
Is there anything I can do to protect my oral health?
- Practice good oral hygiene every day to protect your oral health.
- Ideally, you should brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes each time. To prevent tooth decay, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Keep your teeth clean by flossing regularly.
- After brushing and flossing, rinse your mouth with mouthwash to remove any food particles.
- Limit sugary foods and drinks and eat a healthy diet.
- If your bristles are worn or splayed, replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
- Maintain regular dental check-ups and cleanings.
- Tobacco use should be avoided.
If you have an oral health problem, contact your dentist right away. You should invest in your overall health by taking care of your oral health.