Is your mouth making you sick?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How Oral Health Impacts Systemic Health

At Timberlake Dental, we take healthcare seriously.  While we are specifically concerned with our patients’ oral health, we acknowledge its role in a person’s overall health.  Unfortunately, the mouth has always been treated by a realm of healthcare (dentistry), which has historically been completely separate from general medicine.  Because of this, some people are under the impression that the mouth is therefore independent and unrelated to the rest of the body.  This is a dangerous myth!

What systemic issues are connected with the mouth?

In 2000, the surgeon general released a report called “Oral Health in America”.  The purpose of this report was to inform and educate the nation about oral health, its prevalence in our nation, and how it affects a person’s overall health.  This report was based on a review of published scientific literature and is still considered the authority on the link between oral health and systemic health.

There are many links between the mouth and the rest of the body.  In this article, we will limit the discussion to the most harmful health conditions that are affected by the health of your mouth.

  • Osteoporosis – Osteoporosis is a condition of decreased bone density and often brings to mind a picture of a frail old lady whose bones break easily. Osteoporosis can affect any bone in the body, even the jawbones.  This is especially important in patients who have lost teeth and wear dentures.  The jawbones in a patient with osteoporosis will diminish much more rapidly than in a patient with healthy bones, causing the denture to become loose and uncomfortable.  In a patient with all of their teeth, osteoporosis causes an increased risk for periodontal bone loss.  It has even been suggested that bone loss around the teeth could be a warning sign of osteoporosis.
  • Immunosuppression – There are many different diseases, disorders, and conditions that suppress the immune system, including HIV, autoimmune diseases, organ transplants and cancer treatments. A suppressed immune system makes any type of infection worse because your body cannot fight it naturally.  This puts a person at higher risk for periodontal disease and dental abscesses.  Because these infections also affect other areas of the body, the impact on the overall health is much greater in an immunocompromised patient.  Anyone who has a problem with their immune system should keep to a strict oral hygiene routine and continuing care schedule with their dentist.
    Some people with a weakened immune system will suffer from persistent mouth sores and ulcers that do not heal.  Often a dentist is the first person to catch these signs of a suppressed immune system.
  • Pulmonary Disease – Because the bacteria in the mouth have a quick pathway to the lungs, there is a link between oral disease and pulmonary disease. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is associated with poor oral health, and patients with periodontal disease are at a higher risk of developing bacterial pneumonia.
  • Diabetes – The link between periodontal disease and diabetes is considered a two-way connection: meaning diabetes makes periodontal disease worse, and periodontal disease makes diabetes worse. Diabetes worsens periodontal disease through its affect on blood flow, inflammation and healing ability.  Periodontal disease worsens diabetes by contributing to hyperglycemia and complicated metabolic controls.  This association is thought to be true of diabetes with any chronic infection in the body.
  • Heart Disease – The bacteria present in the mouth of a patient with periodontal disease can contribute to heart disease through a few different mechanisms of action: 1) small localized infections of blood vessel walls, which leads to plaque formation, atherosclerosis, and in severe cases, a heart attack, 2) an influence on platelets causing them to aggregate and form clots in the bloodstream, which could block a coronary artery, leading to heart attack.  People with periodontal disease have a 25% higher risk of heart disease than people with healthy gums.
  • Stroke – The increased risk of a stroke in patients with periodontal disease is based on the same mechanism of action noted above: increased risk for clot formation, which can travel to the brain and occlude a cerebral artery, blocking blood flow to brain tissues.
  • Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes – There is a correlation between periodontal disease and low birth weight infants. The mechanism is in need of more scientific research.  At this time, it is thought to arise from two possible consequences of periodontal disease:  1) The bacteria present in periodontal disease produce toxins that could enter the blood stream, cross the placenta, and cause damage to the fetus.  2) The maternal inflammatory response to these toxins could interfere with fetal growth.

How do I reduce my risk of health problems?

All people should be aware of the health risks associated with dental diseases.  Because most oral health problems are preventable, you can be instrumental in lowering your risk for systemic health problems.

 

  1. See your dentist and dental hygienist regularly for cleanings and oral evaluations.
  2. Practice good oral home care with regular brushing, flossing, and rinsing with the proper mouthwash.
  3. Treat dental problems as they arise. Do not wait until something hurts!  Periodontal disease is often called a “silent” disease because it rarely causes pain.
  4. See your medical doctor to be as preventive as possible with conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

What if I am concerned that my mouth is affecting my overall health?

Call our office today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He will discuss your medical history with you and outline how it can affect your oral health and vice versa.

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