The Connection Between Oral Health and Systemic Diseases
It’s not news that there is a significant link between one’s oral health and
overall health. Though studies are ongoing, researchers have known for quite
some time that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body.
“Your mouth is the entry point of many bacteria,” said Dr. Steven Grater,
Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) member and general dentist from
Harrisburg. “To keep this bacteria from going into your body, cleaning your
mouth (brushing, flossing and rinsing) is necessary.”
PDA strives to educate the public about the role oral health plays in some
systemic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and oral health
complications during pregnancy. PDA wants you to know what you can do to keep
your teeth, gums and body healthy.
Diabetics are more prone to several oral health conditions, including tooth
decay, periodontal (gum) disease, dry mouth and infection. According to “Oral
Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General,” the relationship between
type I and type II diabetes and periodontal disease has often been referred to
as the “sixth complication” of the disease.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth,
and is caused by plaque-forming bacteria in your mouth. In diabetics, it is
often linked to how well a person’s diabetes is under control. Diabetic patients
should contact their dentist immediately if they observe any of the symptoms of
periodontal disease, including red, swollen or sore gums or gums that bleed
easily or are pulling away from the teeth; chronic bad breath; teeth that are
loose or separating; pus appearing between the teeth and gums; or changes in the
alignment of the teeth.
Diabetic patients often suffer from dry mouth, which greatly increases their
risk of developing periodontal disease. If you suffer from dry mouth, talk to
your dentist. He or she may recommend chewing sugarless gum or mints, drinking
water, sucking on ice chips or the use of an artificial saliva or oral
Studies also have shown that periodontal disease may be linked to
cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, preterm births and
low-birth weight babies. Research suggests that people with periodontal disease
are nearly three times as likely to suffer from heart disease. Oral bacteria can
affect the heart when it enters the blood stream, attaching to fatty plaques in
the heart’s blood vessels and contributing to the formation of clots.
Due to the increase in hormone levels, particularly estrogen and
progesterone, pregnant women are at greater risk to develop inflamed gums, which
if left untreated can lead to periodontal disease. A five-year study conducted
at the University of North Carolina found that pregnant women with periodontal
disease are seven times more likely to deliver a premature, low-birth-weight
Oral health problems can cause more than just pain and suffering. They can
lead to difficulty speaking, chewing and swallowing, affecting your ability to
consume the nutrition your body needs to stay healthy, participate in daily
activities and interact with others. Poor nutrition also can lead to tooth decay
and obesity. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Buffalo
examined 65 children, ages two through five, who were treated for cavities in
their baby teeth. Nearly 28 percent of them had a body-mass index indicating
they were either overweight or obese.
To keep your teeth, gums and body healthy, PDA recommends the following:
- Provide your dentist with a complete health history, including any illnesses
and medication use.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily to help remove plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that gets
stuck between your teeth and under your gums.
- Visit your dentist regularly for a checkup and professional cleaning to help
prevent any problems and detect possible problems in their early stages. The
mouth is often the location used to diagnose a variety of diseases.
- Eat a well balanced diet, which will help you maintain a healthier immune
system, help prevent heart disease and slow diabetes disease progression.
- If you smoke, talk to your dentist about options for quitting.
“A clean mouth will lead to a clean body,” Dr. Grater said. “Although you
clean your mouth every day at home, regular checkups to the dentist will prevent
additional disease that can likely cause you to be sick.”
For more information about the link between oral health and overall health
and many other oral health topics, visit PDA's Patient
About the Pennsylvania Dental Association
Founded in 1868, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is comprised of approximately
6,000 member dentists. It is a constituency of the American Dental Association
(ADA), the largest and oldest national dental society in the world. PDA’s
mission is to improve the public health, promote the art and science of
dentistry and represent the interests of its member dentists and their patients.
PDA is the voice of dentistry in Pennsylvania. Learn more about PDA.