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How Oral Health Impacts Overall Health

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smiling man flossing teeth in mirror

Most people know how important it is to brush and floss your teeth every day. We do this to remove plaque from the teeth and gums.

The bacteria in plaque are normal, but if they’re not removed every day, plaque can build up, leading to serious consequences, not just for your mouth, but also for the rest of your body.

When plaque builds up, the body’s immune system will begin to attack it to try to get rid of it. But without the help of daily oral hygiene, the immune system fighter cells won’t be able to kill the bacteria quickly enough. Plus, the inflammation that’s part of this immune response will start to damage the teeth and gums, eventually leading to gum disease and tooth loss. And it doesn’t stop there. When I teach this topic to dental students, I always tell my students, “What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. What’s in your mouth doesn’t stay there.” If gum disease or bone loss near teeth is advanced, both the bacteria and inflammation travel from the mouth through the bloodstream to the rest of the body.

Gum Disease, Inflammation, and Cardiovascular Disease

For years, we thought oral disease stayed in the mouth and didn’t affect other parts of the body. We used to think the body was much more compartmentalized than it actually is. Now, we know gum disease increases inflammation and bacteria throughout the body and can play a role in the development of other chronic diseases; it’s all very connected.

Bacteria and inflammatory molecules from the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to the heart, where they’re recirculated throughout the body. We’re finding out now that a lot of chronic conditions have an inflammatory component. A good example of that is cardiovascular disease. We know inflammation increases the risk of cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke. Experts believe one of the reasons obese people are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease is because fat tissue increases inflammation. And we know people with very advanced gum disease have much higher levels of inflammation in their blood.

One study looking at people with type 2 diabetes found having severe gum disease doubled the risk of dying from heart disease, when compared to people with mild or no gum disease. In the same study, the death rate from diabetes-related kidney disease was eight and a half times higher for people with severe gum disease than for those with mild or no gum disease. Clearly, there’s a connection here.

Gum Disease, Inflammation, and Diabetes

The relationship between gum disease, inflammation, and chronic body-wide disease has been studied in diabetes more than anything else. We know  on average, diabetic patients with advanced gum disease will have worse blood sugar control than diabetic patients who have healthy mouths. One study looked at patients with type 2 diabetes over two years and found that people who had advanced gum disease were six times more likely to have poor control over their blood sugar than those without gum disease. Fortunately, treating gum disease is associated with better blood sugar control over time.

Commit to Your Oral Health

Gum diseases are silent diseases—many people don’t know they have any problems until the disease has become quite severe. That’s why it’s crucial to be proactive in taking care of your oral health. Brush twice a day, floss once daily, and see your dentist for an exam and cleaning at least once or twice a year. By committing to your oral health, you’ll keep your mouth—and the rest of your body—healthy.

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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
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