The Critical Link Between Oral Health and Overall Well-Being

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Studies are increasingly showing a link between dental health and overall health. If you have chronic oral infections and gums that bleed easily, you may be putting more than your teeth at risk. Research shows that oral disease can be linked to heart and lung disease, stroke, diabetes, neurological disorders, and pre-term low birth weight babies.

Editor’s note: Oral health and overall health are indeed interconnected. For this reason, public health authorities stress the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene. They develop programs to raise people’s awareness about the best oral health practices. Furthermore, non-profit organizations and dental health associations also never stop promoting oral health awareness through various platforms.

Oral health is not just concerned with teeth and gums. It is related to the entire body. The cause seems to be the millions of bacteria (at least 200 types) that exist around teeth and gums. These bacteria, if not cleaned regularly, can cause bleeding gum tissue. Damaged bleeding gums allow harmful bacteria (that release toxins) to flow into the bloodstream to travel to different parts of the body.

Studies involving about 50,000 people in four different countries have shown an association between periodontal (gum) disease and heart disease and stroke. One of the culprits appears to be Porphyromonas gingivalis which is a common strain of bacteria found in periodontal disease. Other bacteria also causes alterations in the inflammatory process which can cause more platelet cells to stick to the inside of blood vessel walls leading to blood clot formation.

The risk of heart attack and stroke in people with gum disease is higher than that of people with healthy mouths. Also, bacteria in oral plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions.

When oral bacteria reach the lungs, they can cause infections such as pneumonia, particularly in susceptible individuals. Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lung tissue, as manifested by coughing, fever, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.

We have known for years that diabetics are more prone to gum disease. Now research shows that gum disease can worsen one’s diabetic condition putting these patients at risk of diabetic complications.

Recently there has been much interest in the possible connection between poor oral health and the onset of various neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer disease and Parkinson’s.  Research has shown that as many as 16 million Canadians have some form of periodontal (gum) inflammation. This is made worse by genetic factors and acquired risk factors like diabetes, smoking and depression. Maintaining good oral health can pay huge dividends in keeping the rest of the body healthy and thriving:

• Maintain a healthy diet including calcium, phosphorous, vitamins A, C, and D.
• Brush and floss twice daily to remove plaque and food particles from between teeth. Brush your tongue as well; bacteria found on the back of the tongue are also a source of bad breath.
• Avoid sweet snacks, especially between meals.
• Visit a reputable dental clinic regularly, at least twice a year, for checkups and professional teeth cleaning.
• Don’t smoke or chew tobacco – smoking is a major cause of tooth loss and oral cancer.
• Avoid using mouthwashes with alcohol.
• Keep your mouth hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
• Drink tea – polyphenols in black and green tea may help prevent cavities and gum disease.
• Reduce the stress in your life, which will strengthen your immune system.

Beyond the physical implications, oral health also affects mental health. Poor oral health can lead to social and emotional challenges, diminishing one’s self-esteem and overall quality of life. 

Ultimately, by recognizing and prioritizing the critical link between oral health and overall well-being, one can strive toward a healthier future where they can enjoy not only a confident smile but also improved overall health.

Dr. Ken Szainwald is a part-time clinical instructor in the faculty of dentistry at the University of Toronto. As well, he has a full-time dental practice in downtown Toronto. For appointments call: 416-924-1081; Office address 94 Cumberland Street, Toronto, ON, M5R 1A3

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