The state of your mouth may have an impact on more than just your teeth and gums. It is linked to the health of your entire body.
“Most people are not aware that oral health and general health are directly connected,” says Dr. Ataii of Laser Dental Center, SmileDirectClub partner.
Oral health is often described in studies as “the window into the general health of a patient.”
“While it is obvious that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body, it’s important to understand how certain activities that occur in the mouth can affect the body,” says Dr. Ataii.
We’ve rounded up some of the main health conditions and studies that illustrate this link between your mouth and body – and show why it’s so important to take good care of your teeth and gums.
The health of your mouth and the health of your cardiovascular system are linked, studies show.
According to the Journal of Periodontology, there is a clear association between atherosclerotic disease, a build-up of plaque in your arteries, and periodontal disease, also known as gum disease. There is also a link between oral health and endocarditis. This condition typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your blood stream. This can ultimately lead to an infection in the lining of your heart chambers (endocardium).
Although the connection is not fully understood, some research suggests that other cardiovascular diseases, and even strokes, might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
The frequency of cardiovascular diseases in patients with gum disease is 25–50% higher than in healthy individuals, according to a study in the Journal of Immunology. This connection between heart disease and oral health is there even when factoring in other health risk factors.
Pneumonia, which infects the lungs, has numerous sources. One of those sources, according to the journal Clinical Microbial Reviews, is the mouth. In some cases, the source may be bacteria in the mouth that enters the body, leading to an infection which the body can’t fight off in the lungs. In other cases, the disease can stem from bacteria that live in plaque buildup on the teeth.
A dry mouth can be an early symptom of diabetes, a disease where your body can’t process sugars correctly, notes the American Dental Association. What’s more, untreated diabetes can leave you susceptible to mouth infections and even impact your sense of taste.
Meanwhile, serious gum disease could also negatively impact people living with diabetes. It may cause blood sugar to rise, making it harder to control diabetes, according to the ADA.
“Studies show that if patients reduce the chronic inflammation that gum disease causes by having good oral hygiene, they can also have a positive effect on their diabetic, heart and overall health condition,” Dr. Ataii says.
Infertility and pregnancy issues
Recent studies have linked the bacteria that develops with poor oral hygiene to infertility in both men and women. Just as oral bacteria has been linked to pneumonia and clogged arteries, researchers have started to see bacteria from periodontal disease as negatively impacting reproductive systems, according to the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India. Periodontitis during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
Meanwhile, pregnancy can also have an impact on your oral health.
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy have been shown to have an impact on the tissue in your mouth, the study says.
What’s more, gastric reflux, which is common in pregnancy, can lead to the erosion of enamel, which can eventually cause cavities.
Oral health impacts more than just your body – it’s also linked to your mental health. The World Dental Federation identifies it as a “fundamental component” of your mental wellbeing.
Since oral health has an influence on how we speak, chew, taste, and socialize, it’s strongly linked to our quality of life.
The link goes the other way too. People with poor mental health have a greater risk of oral health problems, often because of poor nutrition and oral hygiene, according to a study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
Good Oral Health: The Cure?
Brushing your teeth won’t necessarily prevent a heart attack, for example, and if you do contract pneumonia, it may have come from a source outside of your mouth. But good oral health is a good starting point for your overall health and wellbeing.
“We all know that brushing and flossing can keep your teeth clean, but what most people don’t know is that brushing at least two times a day and flossing once a day can reduce chronic inflammation of the gums and supporting tooth structures,” Dr. Ataii says.
And those are healthy habits for everybody.