Our thanks to the office of LA holistic dentist Dr. Vern Erwin for providing this article!
Unlike Vegas, what happens in your mouth doesn’t necessarily stay there. You might be surprised at the many ways your oral health can impact the rest of your body.
- Oral Health and Your Heart
Many studies have shown that periodontal disease raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, one recent study found that those with periodontal disease have twice the risk of heart disease than people with healthy gums!
Gum disease goes hand-in-hand with inflammation. Initially, the inflammatory response is the body’s attempt to heal. But like any strength overplayed, when it becomes chronic, it becomes a weakness. If gum disease isn’t resolved, the inflammation response is perpetually activated and your body sends the signal everywhere. That includes your heart.
Also important to note is that plaque is plaque is plaque. When your teeth have to deal with plaque, it’s likely your heart is dealing with it, too. Several studies have identified periodontal strains of bacteria migrate from the mouth to the cardiovascular system.
- Oral Health and Diabetes
Research suggests a reciprocal arrangement between oral health and diabetes. Poor oral health contributes to diabetes, and diabetes contributes to poor oral health. Unsurprisingly, periodontal disease rates are higher in people diagnosed with diabetes, especially uncontrolled diabetes.
Scientists speculate that the bacteria found in infected gums enters the bloodstream after eating and brushing your teeth. Exposure to harmful bacteria triggers the body’s natural defense mechanism, inflammation, which in turn, “produces some powerful molecules that have harmful effects all over your body. An example is raising your blood sugar level.”
- Oral Health and Lung Infections
There appear to be four ways in which biological mechanisms involved in gum disease are thought to be associated with lung infections:
- Evidence suggests that harmful oral bacterial stains are directly aspirated into the lungs and may contribute to aspiration pneumonia in some patients. Other research has shown that dental plaque can be colonized by microbes found mainly in the lungs.
- Enzymes in the saliva of individuals with gum disease can change the mucosal surface of the respiratory tract. This can cause pathogenic bacteria to stick and settle. The microbes can then be aspirated into the lungs where they can cause infection.
- Enzymes associated with oral pathogens can destroy the quality of salivary molecules, decreasing the number of health defense mechanisms overall.
- In cases of untreated gum disease, harmful molecules released from diseased gum tissues may alter respiratory tissues and promote settlements of harmful pathogens, resulting in pulmonary infections.
- Oral Health and Pregnancy
Pregnancy gingivitis is a thing. Nearly 70% of women will experience it when expecting, possibly due to hormonal changes. It’s characterized by puffy gums that may bleed with brushing, and because it can affect the developing baby, due diligence is critical.
Studies have shown that bacteria from the mother’s mouth travels into her bloodstream where it can enter the amniotic fluid. Good bacterial exposure from the mother results in the development of a healthy microbiome in the baby. But research shows when the mother has gum disease and its related harmful bacteria, it may contribute to preterm delivery, low birth weight, and pregnancy hypertension.
Preterm and low birth weight babies have a higher risk of developmental complications, behavioral difficulties, infections and infant death.
- Oral Health and Cancer
There is a good and growing body of evidence linking gum disease with multiple types of cancer. Cause and effect has yet to be established, but there’s some suggestion that the chronic inflammation that gum disease initiates can promote the growth of cancer.
Poor oral health and its consequential diseases have been identified as an independent risk for HPV infection which is associated with oral cancer.
Tobacco products are the biggest risk factors in the development of gum disease and cancer. Generally speaking, due to its addictive potential, smoking and chewing tend to be long-term habits. The longer you use tobacco, the more potential for damage.
As gum disease progresses, your gum tissue breaks down, sags away from your teeth, and forms pockets with infection which, over time, will get deeper. The disease also erodes the supporting structure, so teeth become loose and may need to be extracted. If you have an implant, smoking can contribute to its failure. But more than missing teeth, the use of any tobacco product has been directly associated to cancers throughout the body.
- Tooth loss, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Death
Tooth loss happens when dental disease progresses. Research now shows that tooth loss may predict rheumatoid arthritis and its severity. While much research remains to be done on the relationship between oral disease and RA, there’s some suggestion that treating gum disease may help prevent or reduce its symptoms. (Similar findings have been made with respect to diabetes and other conditions: Treat the gum disease, see symptom improvement.)
Other recent studies have found that missing teeth due to dental disease may have supremely serious results. For instance, one found that missing teeth may predict cardiovascular events. Another found they were associated with poor outcomes in stable coronary heart disease and even death.
How many missing teeth before you’re at risk? According to the first of these two studies,
Having 5 or more missing teeth was associated with 60% to 140% increased hazard for incident coronary heart disease events and acute myocardial infarction. Incident cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and death of any cause were associated with 9 or more missing teeth.
We don’t really need more research to state the obvious: Your mouth is a vital component of your systemic health and wellbeing!
Image by Not in Your Mouth, via Flickr