The Link Between Oral Health and Overall Body Health

Often, I am asked by patients about the link between oral health and certain diseases, or the link between oral health and overall body health.  Of course, this question arises because there are so many reports and articles about this subject.  Professionally, I have read countless articles concerning studies of patients with poor oral health (gum disease) having a higher percentage of certain diseases.

These diseases or conditions include heart attack, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease, pregnancy complications, and cancer.

Clearly, these studies (many studies!) indicate that there is an association.  But, is this association or link causative? Does the gum disease cause the diabetes, stroke, etc.? Well, the short answer is that there is not enough proof or evidence for us to make that conclusion.  However, these studies are most interesting.  Medical and dental professionals should be aware of these associations when treating their patients.

Inflammation is an important consideration. Gum disease (including gingivitis) has an inflammation component.  Many of these previously mentioned diseases also have an inflammation component. Of course, there are some good qualities with inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s defense to things like trauma or bacterial infection.  But, this defense usually causes some pain and/or swelling. 

In the mouth, this process starts with plaque biofilm forming on our teeth and collecting near the gums.  This biofilm has gram (+) and gram (-) bacteria.  These bacteria release toxins (endotoxins and cytokines) into our gingival epithelium (gums). This initiates a “host response” or inflammatory response which results in gingivitis.  Gums with gingivitis have redness and swelling.  These gums are not always painful. Does gingivitis (and its inflammation) which may last for years affect the health of the rest of the body?  That’s the million-dollar question.

The association of gum disease and diabetes is most interesting.  Diabetic patients are more prone to gum disease, tooth decay, and dry mouth.  Often, periodontal health (absence or presence of gum disease) is an indication of how well a patient’s diabetes/blood sugar is being controlled.  And this condition can be bi- directional. 

When these patients have their blood sugar well controlled, they will have better dental exams and checkups.  The periodontal health looks much better. The gums have less redness and bleeding.  I have noticed this with many patients with this condition.

So, what is the best way to avoid gingivitis and this type of inflammation?  Brushing and flossing are essential! Dental visits every 6 months are also important. In some examples, patients need more frequent hygiene appointments. Therapeutic mouthwashes such as Listerine and ACT fluoride are helpful.

I hope you enjoyed this blog.  See you soon!

Dr. David Roach Nashville Dentist - Our Fearless Leader!

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