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Oral Health And Whole Body Health: Is There A Connection?

Oral hygiene and oral health is a lot more important than you may realize. Problems in your mouth can indicate and even be connected to problems throughout the rest of your body; protecting yourself by practicing good preventative dental care and dealing with dental issues as they come up may be the key to good overall health.

Like most other areas of the body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria and potential for disease. Through a combination of the body’s natural immune defenses and good oral hygiene practices such as brushing, flossing, and regular professional cleanings, it is possible to keep these bacteria under control. Without these preventative measures, however, bacteria presence can reach dangerous levels that contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, and in some cases, much worse. Taking medications such as antihistamines, painkillers, decongestants, and other synthetic substances can reduce saliva flow. Saliva is a naturally occurring substance in the body that washes away food particles and reduces acidity caused by excess bacteria, protecting from microbial invasion and other overgrowth that results in disease.

Studies have shown that periodontal and dental disease plays a role in the development of other diseases such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and even heart disease. Inflammation in the mouth also lowers overall immunity, making you susceptible to other diseases as well.

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Diseases Shown To Have A Connection With Oral Inflammation And Disease

There are several conditions that are now shown to have a direct link between oral inflammation and diseases of the body. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Endocarditis--Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart. This condition occurs when bacteria and other foreign irritants in the body travel through the bloodstream and attach themselves to damaged areas of the heart.

  2. Cardiovascular diseases--These are quite possibly the most alarming of all conditions, as they directly affect the health of the heart. Heart disease, arteriosclerosis (the gradual hardening and clogging of the arteries) and even stroke can result from inflammation and infections that excess oral bacteria can cause.

  3. Pregnancy and birth issues--Women with poor dental hygiene and overall poor dental health have been known to have issues with premature birth and low birth weight. With some conditions, the link between oral health and overall health is a two way street.

  4. Diabetes--Diabetes reduces the immune system’s overall resistance to infection, putting the mouth, teeth and gums at risk. Periodontal disease seems to be more common and prevalent among people with type I and type II diabetes. Research has shown that people with this condition have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels, keeping patients trapped in a vicious cycle of inflammation and infection.

  5. HIV/AIDS--Patients with autoimmune diseases are prone to mucosal lesions, which affect the soft tissues and gums of the mouth.

  6. Osteoporosis--This condition results in brittle bones and bone loss, which could result in the jaw and the teeth being affected. In addition, drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry with them a risk of damage of bones in the jaw.

  7. Alzheimer’s disease--Oral care continues to decline as this degenerative disease progresses.

Other conditions linked to poor oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, head/neck cancers, and Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that causes extreme dryness of the mouth.

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How Can I Protect My Whole Health?

“Whole health” is health of all systems in the body, including your mouth. It is a common yet erroneously held belief that our teeth, mouth and gums are in a separate state of health from the rest of our bodies; this is simply not true. Oral health is inextricably linked to the rest of the body---it is possible to detect more than 120 conditions and diseases that cause specific signs and symptoms in and around the mouth and jaw. Some of these symptoms include swollen and bleeding soft tissues and gums, ulcers, dry mouth, bad breath, and metallic taste. Any of the preceding symptoms, or a combination of them, is an indicator that something is amiss with your body. Taking good care of the mouth and body is essential to creating a quality life.

To protect your oral health, and your overall health, practice the following hygienic practices regularly:

  1. Brush and floss your teeth at least twice daily with a preventative care toothpaste and floss.

  2. Eat a healthy diet and limit high calorie, low nutrition snacks. Reduce or eliminate sugar in your diet. Sugar is an inflammatory substance that contributes to a host of diseases.

  3. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months or sooner if showing signs of wear and tear.

  4. Schedule regular checkups and cleanings, and take care of any dental issues that arise.

  5. Avoid activities like drinking alcohol, smoking, and tobacco use.

Following these good hygiene practices will ensure that you reduce and even eliminate possibilities of disease and inflammation, and will set the stage for good overall health for years to come.

Has it been longer than six months since you and your family have been seen by a qualified and well established dentist? If so, it would be prudent to pick up the phone and make those appointments today; your health just may depend upon it!

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