Did you know that your oral health can have a powerful impact on your overall health and wellbeing? If not, you’re not alone! Many people don’t realize that good oral health is critical to preventing disease and improving quality of life. While dentists have long touted the importance of good oral health to whole-body wellness, there seems to be a disconnect in how that information is shared with the general public beyond the dental chair.
When was the last time you were asked about your dental health during a routine physical? How often do physicians recommend regular dental care as a part of a solid wellness routine? The answer is, probably not very often. That is why Sierra Smiles has designed our practice to support the complete health of our patients and do our part in helping you understand how dental care is just as important as eating healthy, exercising, and visiting your primary care physician. Let’s take a deeper look at how your dental health can impact the rest of your body.
How Does Poor Oral Health Impact the Body?
When it comes to oral health’s impact on the body, the bacteria in your mouth are the main culprits. Most of the time, our bodies do an excellent job of protecting us from bacteria — on the outside. Non-oral infections are caused by open wounds made in our natural defenses (skin, nails, etc.), or underlying factors like weakened immunity or disease.
Our mouths, on the other hand, are a perfect environment for bacteria to grow, thrive, and enter the rest of the body. The mouth is a warm, dark, and perpetually wet environment filled with tiny spaces that make it hard for us to remove harmful bacteria. Compounding the issue is the fact that the mouth is made up of soft tissues that are easily weakened or injured, creating new opportunities for infection to travel.
When your mouth is unhealthy, the rising bacteria count begins to cause damage to already-delicate oral tissue and increases the likelihood that infection will grow and move beyond your mouth. The early stage is gingivitis when the bacteria become established in the gumline. A recent article from the Colgate Toothpaste website explains that these bacteria begin to produce harmful toxins that make your gums swell and bleed, providing new access points for bacteria to enter. If left untreated, gingivitis progresses to a much more serious issue: periodontal disease. The infection increases in severity, working its way into the bone and tissue and dramatically upping the risk of a traveling infection that can cause serious disease and other problematic health conditions.
Diseases and Health Conditions Linked to Poor Oral Health
The list of diseases and health conditions linked to poor oral health is probably a bit surprising. Did you know that gum disease can have an impact on pregnancy or your heart? The list below shares some of the conditions/areas of the body that have been linked to oral wellness in different studies in recent years.
Heart health: Some studies have linked oral bacteria to cardiovascular disease and endocarditis. In fact, if you have gum disease, you are twice as likely to have some form of heart disease. In cardiovascular disease, researchers have noted that infection and swelling/inflammation may be caused by bacteria from your mouth. These infections are linked to clogged arteries and other diseases of the heart. Endocarditis, which is an infection within the heart that attacks the inner lining, can potentially be caused by oral bacteria as well. It is important to note that bacteria can enter the body from wounds or other infections and create issues. However, the mouth itself is a common vector due to its tendency to harbor and transport bacteria.
Pregnancy health: While you may not be asked about your oral health in a routine physical, obstetricians check in with pregnant patients about dental care often during prenatal visits and stress the need for maintaining routine care. Pregnancy can have a negative impact on dental health which in turn can have a negative impact on the health of the baby and the mother. According to the March of Dimes, a non-profit focused on preventing prematurity, there is a link between gum disease in pregnant women and premature birth. This is concerning considering that the organization also states that 60-75 percent of pregnant women have gingivitis.
Lung health: The connection between lung health and oral health is probably the least surprising, considering the direct connection between the mouth and lungs. However, bacterial transmission is different. The Mayo Clinic explains that “Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.” A 2013 article in the Journal of Medicine and Life agrees, stating, “Oral disorders, particularly periodontal disease, may influence the course of respiratory infections like bacterial pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
Help Your Mouth Help Your Health
If you’re starting to feel like oral health is a perpetual battle to keep bacteria at bay, you’re not far off. The National Institute of Health notes that there are about 700 species of microbes in the human mouth, including both healthy and harmful bacteria. We regularly introduce new bacteria into our mouths every time we breathe, eat or drink. Even worse, many of the items we eat and drink (like products with sugar) actually feed the bad bacteria, making it stronger and harder to remove.
While good microbes do their best to create a healthy ecosystem, they can’t do it alone. Fortunately, fighting bacteria isn’t all that complicated. Regular brushing and flossing can combat bacteria, as can avoiding the sugary drinks and foods that help it thrive. Regular visits to the dentist are also important, as they create an ongoing record of your dental health that can monitor trouble spots. Your dentist and clinical care team are experts in detecting issues like gingivitis and helping you reverse the damage before it progresses into some of the more serious issues discussed above.
If you’re concerned about your oral health and its impact on your overall wellness, fill out our contact form online or give us a call today at one of our convenient locations. Zephyr Cove: 775-515-8930 Damonte Ranch: 775-443-4305 or Kietzke Lane: 775-786-1911. We would love to help you have a healthier mouth and a healthier body!