Your oral health is important; it might be more important than you even realize. It’s probable that you’ve heard the expression “the eyes are the window to the soul.” While it might be slightly (or a lot) cheesy, there’s also a level of truth to it which is likely why it’s such a popular phrase.
Similarly, in the dental world we like to say that “the mouth is the gateway to your gut.” While this one is pretty obvious, what you might not realize is just how your oral health can impact your overall physical health.
What’s the Connection?
There has long been an indication that a connection exists between overall health and oral health. Dentists, simply by looking at your teeth, can sometimes identify warning signs of underlying health problem. Similarly, primary care doctors know that various health issues like diabetes can impact oral health, and therefore can help create awareness for patients. (https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/features/oral-health-affects-wellness)
Connected Health Issues
The mouth, which has a variety of bacteria, is also the entry point for both your respiratory and digestive tracts. While most of the bacteria in your mouth is harmless, there remains a connection between the bacteria, the inflammation those bacteria cause, and other health issues.
One complication associated with diabetes is gum disease. The gums are weakened in this instance because it can reduce the blood supply to them. In addition, high blood sugar may also cause patients to have a dry mouth which can make gum disease worse. (https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/dental-problems)
This is an infection of the inner lining of the heart walls. This is caused when bacteria, some that enter through the mouth, get into a patient’s blood stream and attach to areas of the heart.
While the studies on this are ongoing and a direct cause hasn’t been established, there does appear to be some connection between oral health and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. It’s believed that bacteria may contribute to the hardening of arteries in your heart. (https://www.livescience.com/35365-study-traces-bacterias-role-in-hardening-of-arteries-.html)
Bacteria can enter through the mouth, and, from there, move into the respiratory tract causing pneumonia or other respiratory illnesses.
While oral health impacts your physical health the opposite is also true. Diseases that might have an impact on your oral health include osteoporosis, which may weaken the bones of the jaw and result in tooth loss or tooth damage. Eating disorders, certain cancers, and rheumatoid arthritis can also impact your oral health.
What Can You Do?
Maintaining good oral hygiene practices is important in helping to prevent some of these greater health issues. Here are a list of some things you can do to help stay healthy.
1. Be sure that you are brushing twice a day – this is great practice regardless of health issues to keep your oral health in check and knowing how it helps you overall health makes it a no-brainer
2. Floss/Use a Water Pik – flossing as part of your daily routine is important as it helps clean in the places that your brush doesn’t reach
3. Mouthwash – rinse out any remaining bacteria after brushing and flossing with a good mouthwash.
4. Replace your toothbrush regularly – remember that you use your tooth brush to clean out bacteria and it may also gather bacteria while sitting on your bathroom counter or in a drawer. Whenever the bristles seem worn out or it’s been a few months grab a new one from the store.
5. Regular Dental Cleanings – be sure that you’re visiting a dental office to get your teeth cleaned on a regular basis. The professionals (like us) will help by removing tartar and plaque buildup that occurs over time and below the gumline.
6. Be Mindful of What You Put In Your Mouth – maintain a healthy diet and try to avoid the foods and drinks that are high in acid and sugars. It’s also good to avoid tobacco use.