Oral health: a window to your overall health
Your oral health is more important than you may realize. Get the facts about how the health of your mouth, teeth and gums may affect your general health.
Did you know that your oral health can oer clues about your overall health? Or that problems in your mouth can aect the rest of your body? Understand the intimate connection between oral health and overall health and what you can do to protect yourself.
What conditions may be linked to oral health? Your oral health may aect, be aected by or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
+ Endocarditis. Gum disease and dental procedures that cut your gums may allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. If you have a weak immune system or a damaged heart valve, this can cause infection in other parts of the body — such as an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis).
+ Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke may be linked to oral bacteria, possibly due to chronic inflammation from periodontitis — a severe form of gum disease.
+ Pregnancy and birth. Gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
+ Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. In addition, people who have inadequate blood sugar control may develop more frequent and severe infections of the gums and the bone that holds teeth in place, and they may lose more teeth than do people who have good blood sugar control.
+ HIV/AIDS . Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
+ Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis — which causes bones to become weak and brittle — may be associated with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss
+ Alzheimer’s disease . Tooth loss before age 35 may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease
+ Other conditions . Other conditions that may be linked to oral health include Sjogren’s syndrome — an immune system disorder — and eating disorders.
How does oral health relate to general health?
• First: Poor oral health begins from a lack of timely education (pre and postnatal) and common child-care habits that include frequent sugar and starchy foods that promote tooth decay. In 2003, tooth decay was acknowledged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics as the most common chronic illness of childhood. Poor childhood oral health often continues as predictable oral illness for teens (more risk behaviors). Oral problems are cumulative with age; again predictable based upon risk concerns (e.g., stress, lack of sleep, oral medications, tobacco, alcohol). The earlier oral illness begins and the later risk concerns are controlled, the greater the harm to oral and general health. It is well recognized that behavior change is the challenge for overall health and wellness. As risk concerns for mouth problems are often the same as for general health, increasing oral health knowledge and increased positive dental-care practices have the potential to protect overall health and wellness while decreasing the risk of chronic health conditions.
• Second: Studies show that poor oral health harms child growth, development, school outcomes, nutrition and, especially, individuals with special needs, the inrm, and the elderly. Oral complaints including dental pain, infection, and sensitivity also signicantly impact self-condence in school and the workplace. Although necessary to correct oral problems, dental care is not curative. Although improving “access to care” is very important, it does not address risk concerns. Optimization of oral health requires empowering the consumer’s knowledge and practice and providing universal access for early diagnosis and evidenced-based preventive care.
• Third: Studies increasingly demonstrate that oral infection contributes to the risk and morbidity of common chronic health illnesses. Abscessed teeth and chronic gingival inammation results in periodontal bone loss. Periodontitis results in release of harmful bacteria and the components of inammation through the blood stream and harm healthy tissues. Additionally, studies suggest that oral infections may if fact worsen chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions, endometriosis, and stroke. How can I protect my oral health? To protect your oral health, resolve to practice good oral hygiene every day.
+ Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
+ Replace your toothbrush every three to four months.
+ Floss daily.
+ Eat a healthy diet and limit between-mealsnacks
+ Choose your dentist carefully (make sure he/ she is up to date with all the latest advances in dentistry and medical sciences).
+ Schedule regular dental checkups.
+ Also, watch for signs and symptoms of oral disease and contact your dentist as soon as a problem arises. Remember, taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.
Dr Sam Afshar DDS (Swe) MScs (KCL London).
British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry,
Accredited Implantology surgeon,
Principal Royal Arsenal Dentists