Your dental team at Anderson Family Dental truly cares about your health. That means your whole-body health, not just your teeth! Did you know your oral health affects your overall wellness? More and more research every year supports the connections between dental health and overall wellness.
YOUR ORAL HEALTH CAN AFFECT YOUR HEART
One of the most heavily researched connections between oral health and overall wellness is the link between gum disease and heart disease. The CDC lists heart disease as the leading cause of the death in the United States, regardless of sex or ethnicity. Most heart disease can be linked to conditions like high blood pressure and hardened arteries, both of which strain the entire cardiovascular system.
But how does all this connect to your gums? The main link appears to be inflammation. Gum disease starts with bacterial action in the mouth. However, the real damage happens when your body’s immune system reacts to those bacteria by flooding your gums with white blood cells. While trying to kill off the bacteria, your body’s natural immune reaction can end up backfiring and doing damage to your own tissue.
This immune reaction releases all sorts of inflammatory compounds into the blood, including c-reactive proteins and cytokines. These compounds can then travel through your blood vessels to cause damage elsewhere in the body, especially your cardiovascular system, putting you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke.
Beyond just causing inflammation, however, there may be some direct action between oral bacteria and the rest of your circulatory system. In fact, researchers have found oral pathogens (bacteria) in the plaques that cause heart disease!
POOR ORAL HEALTH CAN MEAN PROBLEMS THROUGHOUT YOUR BODY
Heart disease isn’t the only way poor oral health can affect your body. A growing body of evidence indicates that oral health problems may affect your risk factors for countless other diseases. Here are just a few examples:
There is a strong link between oral health and risks for cognitive impairments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. While these links are still being studied, the data we have so far is compelling. First, it appears that those same inflammatory markers that affect heart health may be able to damage brain cells as well. There is some evidence that oral bacteria may also be able to affect the nerve cells directly. Second, there is a very strong association between tooth loss and cognitive decline. In fact, each lost tooth is associated with a 1.4% increase in the risk for cognitive impairment, and adults with missing teeth were at a 48% higher risk overall on average.
PANCREATIC CANCER AND PANCREATITIS
A history of gum disease significantly increases risks for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Again, inflammation appears to be the main source of the problem. When those inflammatory markers travel from the gums to the pancreas, it can cause chronic pancreatic inflammation, known as pancreatitis. In turn, pancreatitis is a direct cause of pancreatic cancer. Men with periodontal disease are at a 63% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer compared to men with good oral health.
Inflamed gums don’t just affect organs! Inflammation traveling through the blood can also affect your joints and increase your risk for developing certain types of arthritis. Specifically, people with gum disease are more likely to develop Rheumatoid Arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disease.
Poor oral health is also associated with a variety of fertility issues. Women with periodontal disease are more likely to experience difficulty becoming pregnant. Once they do become pregnant, they are at higher risk for preterm labor and having low birthweight babies. Men are not exempt from these issues either. While still in the very early stages, researchers are building a body of evidence that periodontal disease may increase men’s likelihood of experiencing erectile disfunction.
Beyond these reproductive issues, your oral health can directly affect your children’s teeth, too. Children of parents with poor oral health are more likely to experience decay and dental problems throughout their lives. This may have something to do with the home care habits of the family overall, but oral bacteria can also be transmitted person to person by sharing food or drinks as well as kissing.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR WHOLE-BODY WELLNESS WITH BETTER ORAL HEALTH
This may all seem rather dire. But there is good news! You have a lot of control over your oral health. While some oral health issues are genetic or caused by factors beyond your control, there is always something you can do to improve your teeth and gums.
No surprises here. Be sure to brush and floss thoroughly twice every day. Get regular cleanings at your dental office. Try to take care of any treatments recommended by your dentist as quickly as possible. That’s all there is to it!
As always, Dr. Anderson is here to help you on the road to better oral health, and better full-body wellness, too! Schedule your next cleaning or a consultation to take those first steps toward better health for your teeth and your whole body!