The Mouth-Body Connection

Oral health more important than you might think

Healthy mouth

Many people don’t realize that oral health and general health are linked. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The mouth is our gateway to the rest of the body, a pathway for good nutrition and healthy habits. But sometimes pathogens and toxins sneak through the body’s many defense mechanisms and hang around until the next brushing.

Good oral hygiene is an important component to maintain a healthy balance in the mouth. For example, frequent brushing keeps bacteria at bay, preventing plaque from building on tooth surfaces. Plaque eats away at tooth enamel, often causing swelling, bleeding, redness and gum tenderness, and if not treated, can lead to tooth decay, bone loss around the teeth and even tooth loss. But bacteria can travel further than your mouth. Excessive bacteria building up in pockets between inflamed gums and teeth can enter the bloodstream, exacerbating existing problems in the body and sometimes create new ones.

Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions. For instance:

  • Cardiovascular disease. Research suggest that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke may be linked to inflammation and infections in oral cavities exposed to gingivitis and prostaglandins, a more serious form of gum disease.
  • Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart, which occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of the body, such as the mouth, spread through the bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in the heart. Uncommon, but people with some heart conditions have a greater risk of developing endocarditis.
  • Pregnancy and birth. Gingivitis (i.e. gum disease) has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection. Research has shown that gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes—putting gums and teeth at higher risk.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at NYU have found evidence that gum inflammation may contribute to brain inflammation, neurodegeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of these potential links, it’s important that Dr. Chen be aware of your overall general health and know about any prescribed medications. She’ll ask about general health and be interested in any recent illnesses or chronic conditions, such as diabetes.

To help protect your overall health, practice good oral hygiene every day.

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
  • Floss daily.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups. At the end of the day, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your general health.

At the end of the day, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your general health.

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