Your oral health is more important than you might realize. Get the facts about how the health of your mouth, teeth and gums can affect your general health.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Did you know that your oral health can offer clues about your overall health — or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? Understand the intimate connection between oral health and overall health and what you can do to protect yourself.
Like many areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of them harmless. Normally 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.
In addition, certain medications — such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics — 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 diseases. In addition, certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can lower the body's resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.
Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or 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 appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.
- HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
- Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis — which causes bones to become weak and brittle — might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
- Alzheimer's disease. Tooth loss before age 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.
- Other conditions. Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include Sjogren's syndrome — an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth — and eating disorders.
To protect your oral health, practice good oral hygiene every day. For example:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
- Floss daily.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks.
- Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if bristles are frayed.
- Schedule regular dental checkups.
- Brushing your teeth. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/brushing-your-teeth.aspx. Accessed March 4, 2013.
- Diabetes. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/diabetes.aspx. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Dry mouth. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dry-mouth.aspx. Accessed March 6, 2013.
- Krall KE. Bone health and oral health. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2007;138:616.
- American Dental Association. Healthy mouth, healthy body. Journal of the American Dental Association. 2006;137:563.
- Michalowicz BS, et al. Treatment of periodontal disease and the risk of preterm birth. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2006;355:1885.
- Loesche W. Dental caries and periodontitis: Contrasting two infections that have medical implications. Infectious Disease Clinics of North America. 2007;21:471.
- Oral health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/LHI/oralHealth.aspx?tab=overview. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Casamassimo PS. Oral and systemic health. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Periodontal disease and atherosclerotic vascular disease: Does the evidence support an independent association? A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2012;125:2520.
- Gatz M, et al. Potentially modifiable risk factors for dementia in identical twins. Alzheimer's & Dementia. 2006;2:110.
- What is endocarditis? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/endo/endo_all.html. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Eating disorders. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/e/eating-disorders.aspx. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Sjogren's syndrome: Questions and answers about Sjogren's syndrome. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sjogrens_Syndrome/default.asp#drymouth. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Medications and oral health. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/medications-and-oral-health.aspx. Accessed Jan. 31, 2013.
- Oral health-total health: Know the connection. American Dental Hygienists' Association. http://www.adha.org/resources-docs/7228_Oral_Health_Total.pdf. Accessed Feb. 22, 2013.
- Coogan MM, et al. Oral lesions in infection with human immunodeficiency virus. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 2005;83:700.
Original article: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475