Studies have demonstrated how a smile can have a positive outward psychological effect on those around you. However, maintaining good oral health is like an inward smile for your body that can have positive medical benefits.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Oral health refers to the health of the teeth, gums and the entire oral-facial system that allows us to smile, speak and chew. Some of the most common diseases that impact our oral health include tooth decay (cavities), gum (periodontal) disease and oral cancer. Oral conditions are frequently considered separate from other chronic conditions, but these are actually interrelated.”
Issues that begin in the mouth can affect the rest of your body, and your overall oral health can provide clues to your overall general health. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, other diseases and conditions that could contribute to poor oral health include:
- Endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves, typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas in your heart.
- Cardiovascular disease has been suggested as being linked to oral health. Although the connection is not fully understood, some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
- Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
- Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
Conversely, the Mayo Clinic indicated that certain medical conditions might also affect your oral health, such as:
- Diabetes: By reducing the body’s resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes.
- Blood sugar: Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels. Regular periodontal care can improve diabetes control.
- HIV/AIDS: Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
- Osteoporosis: This bone-weakening disease is linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Worsening oral health is seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses.
- Others: Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers and an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth.
Protecting your oral health comes down to a matter of practicing good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, use mouthwash to remove any remaining food particles and eat a healthy diet. You may also want to limit foods with added sugars, avoid tobacco use and schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
It’s important to contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises. In addition, tell your dentist about the medications you take and about changes in your overall health, especially if you’ve recently been ill or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes.
“Seeing a dentist regularly helps to keep your mouth in top shape and allows your dentist to watch for developments that may point to other health issues,” Delta Dental states on its website. “A dental exam can also detect poor nutrition and hygiene, growth and development problems and improper jaw alignment. Provide your dentist with a complete medical history and inform him or her of any recent health developments, even if they seem unrelated to your oral health.”