What Do Your Teeth Say About Your General Health?
When dentists perform a dental exam, they look at more than the condition of your teeth and gums. Did you know that they also look for clues about your general health? There is a connection between your oral health and your overall health. Your oral health offers clues about your general health and problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body.
How is my oral health connected to my overall health?
Like many areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of them harmless. Usually, the body’s natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can keep these bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Also, certain medications — such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics, and antidepressants — can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth, helping to protect you from microbial invasion or overgrowth that might lead to disease.
Studies also suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis — a severe form of gum disease — might play a role in some conditions. Besides, certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.
What conditions may be linked to oral health?
Your oral health might contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
Endocarditis. Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
Pregnancy and birth. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. Gum disease and diabetes have an interesting connection. People with diabetes have a higher risk for gum problems because of poor blood sugar control. Gingivitis is an infection that may cause blood sugar to rise. Then your diabetes becomes harder to control. You are more susceptible to infections and are less able to fight the bacteria that invade your gums. Whether your diabetes is Type 1 or Type 2, managing your blood sugar level is key.
How can I keep my teeth and gums healthy?
- Maintain your daily oral hygiene routine. Brush your teeth at least twice a day (recommend for 2 minutes) with fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. Check your toothbrush and replace every three to four months or sooner if needed. A toothbrush with frayed bristles loses its effectiveness.
- Eat a healthy diet. You can brush and floss all you want, but if you don’t maintain a healthy diet, your teeth will still suffer. Too many sugar-filled sodas, sweetened fruit drinks or non-nutritious snacks can put you at risk for tooth decay. Limiting processed foods and building the majority of your diet around fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates are the pillars of a healthy, modern diet.
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings. A schedule of dental exams twice a year works well for most people who have average teeth. A few people can get away with fewer visits whereas others need to go more often. Your dentist can check for problems that you may not see or feel, such as gum disease and oral cancer.
Always be sure to let your dentist know of any existing health issues you’re facing. Diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as well as medications you are taking, can affect your oral health. Dry mouth is a common condition that may be caused by medical disorders or medications. As the neutralizing effect of saliva is reduced, your teeth are at risk of increased decay. Your dentist can recommend treatments that restore the moisture and prevent problems.
Remember, healthy teeth make a healthy smile!
Dr. Nishan Halim
Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult and pediatric restorative and cosmetic dentistry, as well as preventive dentistry, which is at the heart of this Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. To learn more about the nutrition connection to oral health, contact Dr. Halim to schedule an appointment. Find out how he can help you maintain your healthy smile.