Good oral health could save your life – The link between oral health and other diseases

23 Oct 2017

There’s been a lot of talk about oral systemic health of late, and justly so:  much evidence links poor oral health to serious medical conditions.

Treating oral health problems could potentially serve as a preventative for a number of serious illnesses.


Your Mouth, the Gateway to Your Body

It’s clear, oral health and overall health are inextricably linked. Looking after them reduces the risks to your general health.

Bacteria  left to build up on teeth leave gums prone to infection, causing inflammation. Over time, the inflammation can eat away at the gums and bone that hold your teeth in place. This can result in a more severe disease, periodontitis which has links to some serious health problems in the body.

 Here’s a quick look at some of the issues under discussion:

Kidney disease

Good oral health could be a life saver for kidney disease patients. A study from The University of Birmingham links a higher mortality rate to patients with periodontitis (gum disease) and kidney disease, than those with kidney disease alone.


Oral Health and Diabetes

A strong link exists between periodontitis and diabetes, with studies showing that inflammation in the mouth lessens your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.

“Periodontal disease further complicates diabetes because the inflammation impairs the body’s ability to utilise insulin,” Pamela McClain, DDS, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. It also seems that diabetes and periodontitis have a two-way relationship. High blood sugar provides ideal conditions for infection to grow, so diabetics are prone to gum disease. For diabetics, it is imperative to keep their oral health in careful check, in order to prevent any ensuing complications.”


Oral Health and Heart DiseaseMan holding a surfboard - image for Oral Health and Disease

There is a high correlation between gum and heart disease, although just why is illusive. Periodontitis is found in a high majority of patients with heart problems, but only in about half of people without heart disease.   The two conditions have several risk factors in common, such as smoking, an unhealthy diet and high weight.

“The theory is that inflammation in the mouth causes inflammation in the blood vessels,” says Dr Sally Cram (Periodontist). This can increase the risk for heart attack in a number of ways. Inflamed blood vessels allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure. “There’s also a greater risk that fatty plaque will break off the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain, causing a heart attack or stroke,” Cram explains.


Breast cancer

Recent research has found new links between periodontal disease and breast cancer. Recent research discovered that postmenopausal women with periodontal disease are more likely to develop the cancer than those without this gum issues.


Prostate disease

Researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine and the Departments of Urology and Pathology at University Hospitals Case Medical Centre reported that treating gum disease reduced symptoms of prostate inflammation.


Oral Health and Pregnancy

Babies born too early or at a low birth weight often have significant health problems, including lung conditions, heart conditions, and learning disorders. While many factors can contribute to premature or low birth weight deliveries, researchers are looking at the possible role of gum disease. Infection and inflammation in general seem to interfere with a foetus’ development in the womb.

Though men have periodontitis more often than women do, hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase a woman’s risk. Infection and inflammation in general seem to have an adverse effect on foetal development, so for the best chance of a healthy pregnancy, it’s advisable to have a comprehensive perio exam pre-pregnancy to ensure you and your baby are not put at risk. Ask your dentist for advice if you are thinking of starting a family.


Oral Health and Other Conditions

While the impact of oral health on general health is a relatively new area of study, there are some interesting inroads being made on the following:

The Bottom Line on Oral Health

Clearly, the health of your mouth can affect the health of your body, and vice versa, so taking care of your teeth and gums now has a whole new positive, a healthy mouth can mean you will live well for longer.  Your simple daily routine of brushing twice a day and flossing every day can have a much greater impact on your life than just keeping your teeth clean. See your dentist regularly so that you stay on top of any little things that may arise before they turn into big issues.

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