What is Oral-Systemic Health?

Aside from hygiene product commercials and visits to the dentist, you may not hear much about oral health. The lack of conversation about it, however, doesn’t accurately reflect the fact that most people have one or more serious dental issues to deal with. In fact, in the United States alone, over 90% of adults have had at least one cavity in their permanent teeth, and around 70% have some form of periodontal disease. One of the more important aspects of your oral health is how it can affect the rest of your body, a connection often referred to as oral-systemic health.

Maintaining a healthy mouth is important. Nobody wants to deal with toothaches or swollen gums. Still, we get into bad habits that negatively affect our dental well-being. When we look to correct our problems, though, it is not just our mouths we should be worried about. Dr. James Fondriest, your Lake Forest dentist, presents three areas of your body that can be impacted by poor oral health.

Meet the Microbes in Your Mouth

You might be familiar with dental plaque, the sticky stuff you sometimes feel when you run your tongue across your teeth. What you might not realize is what’s inside dental plaque, or why it forms. At any given moment, your mouth hosts over 600 identifiable kinds of bacteria. Some are responsible for cavities, others for bad breath, and a few directly attack your gums, paving the way for periodontal disease. The germs responsible for gum disease release toxins that separate your gums from your teeth (gum recession), and other microbes can gather in the resulting pockets. As the infection progresses, your gums can suffer damage, eventually bleeding when you brush and floss your teeth.

Gum Disease, and Then Some

Along with toxin releasing bacteria, gum disease is also facilitated largely by the microbe, Porphyromonas gingivalis, which manipulates your body’s defensive mechanisms to survive. Inflammation, or swelling, is a natural response by your immune system to drive out harmful bacteria before your tissues become infected. P. gingivalis produces a molecule that helps it fool your immune system, allowing the germ to evade inflammation. The chronic presence of P. gingivalis leads to excessive swelling, redness, and bleeding in your gums. If allowed into your bloodstream, the mouth bacteria can travel throughout your body, and the spreading inflammation can increase your risk for a number of different health issues.

The Oral-Systemic Health Connection

The oral systemic connection has been the subject of numerous studies, and experts postulate that there are several ways for poor oral health to influence systemic health issues. When bacteria overwhelm your gum tissue, they can enter your saliva, then adhere to water droplets in the air that you inhale. If they’re inhaled into your upper respiratory tract, then oral bacteria can contribute to respiratory infections, like bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

When your gums are inflamed, the pressure of brushing your teeth or biting your food can release oral microbes into your bloodstream. According to one study, the presence of P. gingivalis infection can significantly increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis—a disease of the arteries that often leads to heart attack and/or heart failure. There is also a link between this bacteria and the development of pancreatic cancer. Periodontal disease can also make people more prone to kidney disease and arthritic knees.

Examples of Oral-Systemic Health

Oral-systemic health is the connection between your oral and overall health. Here are some examples:

1. Your heart: While we can’t control the existence of bacteria in our mouths, we can limit the effect of them. Letting bacteria have its way with our gums and teeth can lead to advanced gum disease (periodontitis). Those with periodontitis have almost two times the chance of contracting coronary artery disease. So, caring for your gums means caring for your heart.

2. Your mind: Research has found possible connections between dementia and unresolved dental problems. Doctors believe amounts of bacteria travel from the mouth to the brain. These bacteria could contribute to plaque linked to Alzheimer’s disease. While the onset of the disease takes place later in life, it’s never too early to take care of your dental health.

3. Your blood sugar: Diabetics are prone to infections more than non-diabetics, which puts them at risk for periodontitis. Research shows gum disease makes blood sugar difficult to control. Conversely, keeping a healthy mouth and treating gum disease actually improves health in diabetics. If you are diabetic, visit your dentist regularly to avoid a cycle of infection and disease.

Keep Your Mouth and Body Healthy

Although the theories of oral-systemic health can seem disturbing, they also highlight the importance of maintaining a bright, clean, and disease-free mouth. You can control the population of oral bacteria and the protective plaque they form by carefully brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice every day. To make sure your mouth stays clean, Dr. Fondriest advises attending a dental checkup and cleaning at least once every six months (or more often, if needed). If you notice redness, swelling, or slight separation of your gums, then visit our office as soon as possible, even if it isn’t time for your checkup. Ignoring the warning signs of periodontal disease can allow it enough time to fully develop and cause irreversible damage, like tooth loss.

Learn more about Oral-Systemic Health

Aside from providing expert general and restorative dentistry services to our community, Dr. James Fondriest also holds highly-respected academic appointments at the Pankey Institute in Key Biscayne, FL, and the Spear Institute in Scottsdale, AZ, and he is a former Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Prosthodontics at the University of Florida Dental School. At Lake Forest Dental Arts, Dr. Fondriest combines his impressive array of experience with modern technology and caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from all surrounding communities. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.