Understanding the Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health

While we tend to think of oral health and overall health as being distinct things, treated by dentists and doctors respectively, in reality, they’re interconnected in all sorts of ways. Your body is a holistic system in which all parts interact and affect each other. With that in mind, it becomes important to remember that oral health and overall health are deeply linked. Your teeth, gums, and the rest of your oral cavity affect the rest of your body and vice versa. So what is the link between oral health and overall health? How do they affect each other? How can you best care for your oral health to promote overall well-being?

To answer these questions, let’s begin with a look at the role your oral cavity plays in your body as a whole. Your oral cavity is the entrance to your digestive and respiratory system, as well as the primary vocal opening. This allows your body to perform a number of everyday vital functions like speaking, eating, and breathing. However, your oral cavity is home to a number of different kinds of bacteria and allows those bacteria to enter and interact with your body’s other systems. While most of these bacteria are benign and a few of them are beneficial, some can be harmful. Your body is pretty good at keeping bacteria under control via a variety of natural functions performed by your immune system and your saliva–which, incidentally, has mild antimicrobial properties. However many bacteria have adapted to work around these natural defenses.

So what can these bad bacteria do to your body? While that depends on some other aspects of your health and the bacteria in question, there are a number of conditions and diseases that can be caused or exacerbated by oral bacteria:

    • Endocarditis is an inflammation of the endocardium, the inner lining of the heart, and its chambers. This can cause internal and external lesions, among other symptoms, and may lead to serious health complications if untreated. Endocarditis generally occurs when bacteria or other microorganisms–including ones originating in the mouth–take up residence in the tissues of the endocardium.
    • Pregnancy and childbirth may also be affected by oral health. There is a strong link between various complications in pregnancy and childbirth and periodontal diseases caused by bacterial infections in the gums.
    • Likewise, bacteria from the mouth can infiltrate the respiratory system due to the role the oral cavity plays in normal breathing. This can cause various respiratory infections, including pneumonia when such bacteria reach the lungs. These diseases in turn can cause other health complications and even death.
    • As with endocarditis, there exists a strong link between oral infections, oral bacteria, and various other cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, arterial blockages, and stroke. While this link isn’t fully understood at this time, the strong correlation indicates a connection between oral health and this aspect of heart health.

In addition to these diseases caused by the interaction between oral health and overall health, there are some other conditions that may be exacerbated by dental issues. These include HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s Disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Oral infections can undermine the body’s immune system, which in turn complicates these conditions and causes additional infections and illnesses.

So now that we’ve explored some of the links between oral health and overall health, let’s look at some steps you can take to safeguard both by maintaining good oral health. In general, the best approach to maintaining good oral health (and thus helping maintain good overall health) is a proactive one. An effective and regular brushing and flossing routine, daily use of mouthwash, and a healthy diet low in carbs and sugars go a long way towards protecting oral health. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol use is another important step in keeping your teeth and gums healthy and happy. Finally, regular trips to the dentist for routine exams and cleanings provide another layer of protection, keeping your teeth as clean as possible while giving your dentist a chance to detect any problems before they develop further. By following these guidelines, you’ll go a long way toward protecting your oral health, and by extension your overall health.

So, with all that in mind, if you’re due for an exam and cleaning or have another oral health question you’d like to address, get in touch today. We’ll make an appointment and get you in to see us. Let us help you make sure that your oral health–and your health overall–are the best they can possibly be.