How Your Mouth Affects Your Health

A dentist in Seattle, WA, writes about how it’s impossible to hide the evidence of bulimia from him. 

A dentist in Wayland, MI, offers oral cancer screening to every patient, hoping to cure one more case of oral cancer before it’s too late. 

Dr. Lang of Great Miami Dental ensures that every patient heals as quickly as possible by using KaVo laser treatment, reducing infection and improving overall well-being.

What do all these scenarios have in common? Evidence of how much dentistry is beginning to touch every area of our lives and total body health.

In fact, it always has.

Pain and inflammation are our body’s megaphone to tell us something is wrong. If you are experiencing inflammation, bleeding, or tooth pain, or if you have unusual tooth erosion or halitosis that won’t go away with healthy dental habits, it may be a warning signal to you about your overall health. 

A healthy mouth is a sign of a healthy body. Many people mistakenly believe they can keep their body healthy and ignore their oral health. Others do know the importance of their oral health. But few understand the direct link between oral health and whole body health. Today’s dentist is aware of the holistic health implications of the condition of your smile, and can assist in recognizing warning signs of possible health problems. What’s more, your dentist will also support your overall health by keeping your mouth healthy. Your dentist can’t do this without you visiting regularly, however. 

Here are ways your oral health is linked to your overall health, your ultimate mouth – body connection.

Gum disease could be linked to Alzheimer’s.

Medical News Today states that gum disease can lead to increased risk of tooth loss, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s. And an alarming “8.52% of adults between 20 and 64 years of age in the United States have periodontitis (gum disease).” Recent research has been exploring the link between the bacteria found in periodontitis and the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain, which have been linked to Alzheimer’s.

Porphyromonas gingivalis is a bacterium that drives the development of gum disease. This bacterium is also found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. Of course, correlation does not always equal causation; however, it is one avenue researchers are looking into in their fight against the disease. Preventing and treating gum disease could increase your odds against this disease. 

Periodontitis has been linked to lower birth rates.

There are rumors that expectant mothers should not see their dentist due to the radioactivity of radiographs. However, this rumor is harmful to mothers and their babies. Periodontitis releases toxins which can make their way to the placenta through the bloodstream. These toxins can interfere with a baby’s healthy growth rate. If an expectant mother has undetected periodontal infection or gum disease, she won’t be able to receive the treatment she and her baby need. 

If you’re concerned about radiographs, you can always get one before you are pregnant and after the delivery of your baby, as you only need a periodontal health assessment once a year. You can also make sure your dentist is using digital radiograph technology, which has just 10% of the radioactivity of a traditional X-ray. And finally, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that “abdominal and thyroid shielding be used for pregnant patients when radiographs are being taken.” 

Talk to your dentist about periodontitis in the stages leading up to and during your pregnancy. 

Tooth erosion can be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

There seems to be no end to the things your teeth can show you. Research shows that 24% of people who have GERD have tooth erosion. Since GERD often walks in silence in the night (aka, it’s literally undetected in some people and acts up at night), it can be difficult to detect. Bad breath can be another sign. If you have a faithful hygiene routine and still experience erosion and breath issues, it might be because of GERD. If your dentist notices unusual tooth erosion or breath, GERD might be something you want to discuss with your primary doctor.

There’s a correlation between periodontitis and diabetes. 

Periodontitis and diabetes. Diabetes and periodontitis. They seem to often go hand in hand, and there are so many correlations between the two that it’s not clear which comes first for many people. People with diabetes are three times more likely to have periodontitis. People with periodontitis are more likely to have diabetes, and periodontitis makes diabetes more difficult to control. 

So what’s the deal with the interaction between periodontitis and diabetes? If you have painful, bleeding gums, your dentist will want to check into your family history of diabetes. If they have concerns, this is another thing you could discuss with your primary care physician. And taking care of periodontitis will not only help prevent gum disease, but will also help you manage or even reduce your risk of diabetes. 

Anorexia and bulimia cause havoc with teeth.

The vomiting brought on by bulimia causes an unusual amount of stomach acid to come in contact with the teeth, causing erosion. Cuts and scratches along the soft palate are red flags to dental professionals, as normal healthy habits will rarely damage this area.

In fact, 28% of bulimia cases are diagnosed during a dental exam. It’s almost impossible to hide the signs of oral trauma from a dental professional. These signs usually begin to show up, on average, after two years.

Anorexia will reduce your body’s stores of necessary vitamins like calcium, iron, and B vitamins, resulting in some noticeable oral health symptoms like canker sores, dry mouth, and even gum disease. 

Coloured spots on teeth might point to celiac disease.

One final mention is celiac disease. Because celiac disease is hard to diagnose, dentists are uniquely positioned to identify this condition. Celiac, another autoimmune disease, causes white, brown, or yellow spots on the teeth. It also causes a smooth, red tongue (normally, tongues are bumpy). If your dentist or you notice any of these things, it could be a clue that you have celiac disease. 

It seems that every season brings new discoveries in how oral health affects overall body health and vice versa. The most current research is showing us that regular dental checkups and oral health management can help prevent, detect, and diagnose many conditions and diseases, as well as make them easier to manage.