If you’re a frequent visitor to our website or dental office, then you’ve heard us say it before: Your mouth is a window to your overall health.
The reason we continue to bring this up is because so many people view issues like cavities or gum disease as ailments relating only to the mouth. This is where we’re proud to provide some valuable patient education. You see, while these issues do occur in the mouth, people often forget that the mouth is connected to our entire body!
Your dental health is your health.
In today’s blog post, we’ll take a look at the connection between your oral health and overall health and even dive into some medical conditions you probably didn’t know a dentist can help detect and even help treat. We hope you walk away with a better understanding of why your dentist (and the quality of care given to your teeth and gums) is so important to your total health and wellbeing.
Why Are Oral and Overall Health Viewed Separately?
Why do so many people fail to view dental care and total body care in the same vein?
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is ingrained into our culture.
Since the beginning, dentistry and medicine have largely been considered inherently different practices. Even within the medical system and insurance programs, these two types of care are separated and have never been treated in the same way.
Yet the separation of these two types of care is becoming increasingly difficult to rationalize. As you’ll learn today, diseases starting in your mouth can have devastating effects on the rest of your body. In extreme cases, the difference between a healthy mouth and a diseased one is the difference between life and death.
There’s no ignoring the facts: Your oral health is vital to your general health and wellbeing.
Let’s Take A Peek Inside Your Mouth
In order to better understand why your oral and total body health are one and the same, we need to look at how your mouth is connected to the rest of your body. Mainly, we need to understand what can go wrong.
In your mouth, there’s a barrier between your gums and teeth, and the rest of your body. Every time your mouth is inflamed or infected this barrier breaks down allowing bacteria into your body and triggering disease and dysfunction.
These infections in your mouth stem from bacteria building up on and around your teeth. Your immune system comes in to attack the infection, causing the gums to become inflamed. Over time, this inflamation eats away at your gums and bone structure, breaking the barrier into your body and allowing the infection to hit other systems through the bloodstream.
This is what’s referred to as periodontitis, or gum disease, and its implications are scary.
Medical Conditions Linked to Gum Disease
Almost half of American adults suffer from gum disease. This condition is linked to many other medical problems, including dementia, arthritis, and respiratory infections. Gum disease during pregnancy can even lead to premature birth!
However, the two largest medical conditions associated with gum disease are heart disease and diabetes.
Research shows that 91% of people with cardiovascular disease also have periodontitis. Scientists believe the link between these two issues is bacteria.
Heart disease stems from inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to infection. As bacteria stemming from your mouth travel through the body, it could be triggering a similar inflammatory response, leading to the formation of arterial plaque. This plaque will narrow or block the arteries, leading to a heart attack or stroke.
One thing is for sure: with heart disease killing over 600,000 Americans every year, ensuring your heart stays healthy needs to be a priority for everyone. This means taking care of your teeth and visiting your dentist regularly.
According to a recent CDC report, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. When it comes to the connection between diabetes and periodontitis, studies show it’s a two-way relationship. Meaning, not only does data show that people with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease, it also suggests gum disease can contribute to diabetes.
Those who have diabetes already need to work closely with their dentist and be hyper aware of their risk of gum disease. For everyone else, remember that keeping your mouth healthy and ensuring you don’t have inflammation and infection in your mouth, reduce your risk of diabetes.
A Dentist’s Important Role in Helping You Stay Healthy
So how exactly does your dentist fit into all this? How are those biannual teeth cleaning visits really helping you maintain optimal whole-body health? Can’t you just brush your teeth regularly and remember to floss and call it good?
The truth is, your dentist is more important to your general health than you may realize. And yes, while proper brushing and flossing habits are incredibly important, establishing a good relationship with your dentist is the best line of defense in catching and preventing serious health issues.
During your regular checkups, your dentist is doing more than just seeing how clean your teeth look. There are a host of signs and symptoms we’re keeping an eye out for, such as:
- Plaque and tartar buildup
- Signs of gum disease
- Oral cancer
Examining your mouth and gums will help your dentist learn about you. For example, did you know that most dentists can tell if you bite your nails, drink a lot, or used to suck your thumb?
Other Medical Conditions Your Dentist Can Help Detect
Beyond these “typical” dental health issues and lifestyle factors, you may be surprised at the number of medical issues a dentist can detect.
A dentist can usually tell if you’re pregnant, have a sinus infection, vitamin deficiency, or an eating disorder. One study a few years ago found that 73% of the time, a dentist can also identify whether or not you have diabetes.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms. 90 percent! That said, there numerous health issues your dentist can help you detect, including:
- Sleep Apnea
- Crohn’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Taking a Holistic Approach to Your Oral Health
We hope our discussion today has helped you realize how necessary it is to take a holistic approach to your health. You simply cannot isolate what’s happening in your mouth from what’s happening in the rest of your body– like we said at the beginning of this post, your dental health is your health.
Your dentist and your primary care doctor are equal partners in helping you achieve a long and happy life. So make sure you partner with a dentist who has a truely health-focused mindset and understands this very important connection between your mouth and the rest of your body.
Have questions about what you read here to day or want to share your thoughts and feedback? Please reach out to me online! I’d be happy to hear from you.
Or if you’re ready to take a holistic approach to your dental health, call Blodgett Dental Care at (503) 285-3620 to schedule an appointment. You can also learn more about our practice here.
Dr. Blodgett completed his pre-doctoral sciences at Portland State University and graduated from the Oregon Health Science University School of Dentistry in 1999. As a modern pioneer in progressive dental care, Dr. Blodgett has become a leader in minimally-invasive dentistry, dental lasers, computerized dental technology, and holistic care. He is widely recognized for the innovative care he provides and is dedicated to helping his patients optimize their whole body health.