Have you heard that the eyes are the window to the soul? Well, the mouth can be regarded as a window to your overall health. Your mouth can show signs of nutritional deficiencies, illnesses and general infections. Also, a close examination can reveal signs of drug use, domestic physical abuse, harmful habits, addictions and general health status.
Links between Oral and General Health
There are many types of bacteria present in our mouths, mostly helpful and some harmful. Harmful bacteria can cause tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease, and systemic diseases that affect general health. In people with a healthy defense system, these bacteria can usually be controlled with good nutrition and oral hygiene practices like daily brushing and flossing. But when harmful bacteria grow out of control, they can cause serious inflammation and gum infections. The mouth can then become a port of entry for infection by allowing harmful bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This can lead to more inflammation in other parts of your body, such as the heart.
Oral health can affect other diseases and conditions
There is a link between gum disease and certain diseases that affect the body including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease. For example, periodontal disease can disrupt blood-sugar levels and make diabetes more difficult to control. Also:
• The mouth can be a reservoir for bacterial infection of the lungs, which can cause bacterial pneumonia.
• Tooth decay is a transmissible infection which can be transferred from parent to baby, making the child more susceptible to dental decay.
• There may be a relationship between gum disease in pregnant women and premature birth and low birth weight newborns.
Diseases and conditions can also affect your oral health
Cardiovascular conditions, diabetes and pregnancy can be affected by your oral health; but they can also have harmful effects on your oral health.
• Medicines taken for many conditions may cause dry mouth, which can increase your risk for dental decay, oral yeast infections and other oral infections.
• Tobacco use and poor dietary practices can harm your mouth, gums and teeth.
• Some blood disorders, respiratory conditions and gastrointestinal disorders such as GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease) can have a negative impact on your oral health.
• People with weakened immune systems are more likely to get fungal and viral infections in the mouth.
Good health starts with your mouth
It is important to understand that the mouth is not a separate entity from the rest of the body. Oral health is an integral component of general health and well-being for all ages. But the relationship between oral diseases and overall health is often overlooked by health care providers, parents, and caregivers. We have more reasons now than ever to take good care of our teeth and gums.
So, resolve to practice good oral hygiene every day and to get regular dental exams. Attend to dental needs promptly. You're making an investment in your overall health—for now and for the future.
Shelley Guinn is the executive director for New Day Community Dental Clinic. Guinn has been in the dental profession for over 20 years; the majority of that time providing clinical dental hygiene care in Clark County. She has developed and coordinated programs for underserved young children, their families, and medical professionals in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties; and is a part time affiliate dental hygiene instructor for Clark College and Eastern Washington University. She received her dental hygiene education at Clark College, earned her Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene at Eastern Washington University, and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Health at A.T. Still University’s School of Health Management in Kirksville, Missouri.