As dentists, we spend lots of time educating our patients about the importance of taking care of their mouth, teeth, and gums. On the surface, we want to help you prevent bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease—all with the goal of helping you protect your teeth as you grow older. In addition to our work, researchers are discovering new reasons to brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly. They are learning that having a healthy mouth can ward off more serious medical conditions at any stage in your life. An unhealthy mouth may increase your risk of health problems such as preterm labor, poorly controlled diabetes, and even heart attack and stroke.
Take it from Ashley, RDH, one of FDA’s own dental hygienists: “The mouth is a window to the rest of the body,” Ashley explains. “Oftentimes we see changes arise in the mouth before they are evident elsewhere in the body. Maintaining optimal oral health is crucial to overall health. Since the mouth is connected to the body we recognize that chronic inflammation or presence of disease isn’t just localized to the oral cavity, but has the potential to be linked to underlying conditions.”
Just as Ashley explains, your mouth can play a crucial role in learning more about your overall health. In fact, saliva is a great tool that can help detect a variety of substances such as certain cancer markers, cortisol levels, and can even be used to monitor bone loss in those prone to osteoporosis. Saliva is also a main defense against disease-causing organisms as it contains antibodies that can attack both viral pathogens and bacteria. However, saliva can’t always get the job done completely. Over 500 different species of bacteria thrive in your mouth at any given time and constantly form dental plaque. If you don’t brush and floss regularly, this plaque builds up along your gum line, opening the door for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and teeth. This build-up leads to gingivitis, and can potentially lead to periodontitis.
Our gums are vascular and full of blood, so infections such as gingivitis and periodontitis can happen quickly. Once that gum layer is disrupted due to brushing, flossing, or an invasive dental treatment, bacteria can enter in the bloodstream, travel to any area of the body and potentially cause inflammation. Inflammation in the heart causes hardened arteries, or atherosclerosis, making it harder for blood to flow to the heart, increasing one’s chance of heart attack and stroke. Oral bacteria can also enter your bloodstream and stick to the lining of diseased heart valves, causing infective endocarditis.
Another important connection between oral health and overall health is that the bacteria connected to periodontal disease, streptococcus sanguis, plays a role in strokes. This bacteria can quickly spread to the heart through the gums, potentially causing a stroke. There is research to suggest that people with gum infections are at an increased risk of stroke and researchers mention that the more severe the infection, the greater the risk of stroke appears to be.
While the American Heart Association says there is no definitive, direct evidence that heart disease can be prevented by working to prevent gum disease, that doesn’t mean that it can’t help. That’s one reason why regular dental check-ups are important at any age.When was the last time you visited us? Schedule an appointment to get your gums checked out today!