Oral Health Impacts Overall Health

Asian senior couple brushing their teeth as part of their bathroom early morning routine

Chew on this: Caring for your teeth and gums translates into more than just a pretty smile. It’s also important for your overall health. Problems with your teeth and gums can often lead to or indicate other health issues, including heart disease and stroke. That’s why good dental hygiene is important. October is the perfect time to learn about proper dental care because it’s National Dental Hygiene Month.

The mouth is literally a gateway into your body; it leads to our digestive and respiratory tracts. Good oral health care, like brushing and flossing, reduces bacteria and helps our natural defenses prevent illness. Our saliva also helps by clearing our food and neutralizing acids produced by bacteria; some medications, like decongestants, can decrease the amount of saliva we produce. Periodontist Sasha Ross, DMD, MS at the Cleveland Clinic, explains, “[Y]ou should think of your mouth as an extension of the rest of your body. By looking in a person’s mouth, I often get a sense of what their overall health is.”

Poor oral health can result in a number of conditions in the mouth. For example, untreated cavities can develop into tooth decay. Another common condition is gingivitis, which occurs when gums get infected with bacteria. Gingivitis can develop into periodontal disease, a gum infection that causes inflamed gums and bone loss around teeth. These conditions, in turn, can exacerbate other diseases or conditions throughout the rest of the body.

Some conditions that may occur include:

  • Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases if specific mouth bacteria are pulled into the lungs; having cavities has been linked to developing pneumonia.
  • Endocarditis, when bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream and attaches to and infects the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves (endocardium).
  • Cardiovascular disease such as heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke, may be connected to the inflammation and infections oral bacteria cause.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications may occur when oral bacteria enter the bloodstream. It may lead to fetal growth restriction, gestational diabetes, miscarriage, and stillbirth; premature birth and low birth weight has been linked to periodontitis.

So, what should you do to ensure good oral (and body) health?

  • Brush your teeth at least twice daily. Make sure you brush for a full two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss at least once daily. Toothpicks don’t count; you need to use dental floss.
  • See your dentist twice a year. Regular exams, x-rays, and cleanings brighten your smile and boost your health; seeing a dentist regularly has been proven to reduce risk of stroke and other conditions.
  • Manage your overall health. Make sure any chronic conditions, like blood pressure, are controlled. Eating healthy and exercising will also help your oral health.

You can also consider adding in mouthwash or using a water pick to get your teeth extra clean—but they should not replace brushing and flossing. And if you develop pain or other oral issues, schedule an appointment with your dentist right away.

Spend time this October investing in oral health for your mouth and your body. It’ll come in handy after all the candy from Halloween.