Oral Health and Overall Health

By Insurance Industry Expert & Author
Updated on

Good oral health is closely related to good overall health. It significantly decreases your risk for a wide variety of diseases and disorders. These range from highly preventable to life-threatening.

Overview: Your Dentist Can Spot More Than Just Oral Health Problems

Many people ask, "Can dental problems cause health problems?" That’s a fair question. The simple answer is, "Yes." But you might be surprised at just how closely related the two truly are. What your dentist notes during a dental exam is not limited to oral hygiene. In fact, your dentist can detect symptoms of the following conditions simply by looking in your mouth.

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Excessive Stress

One way to tell that stress is on the verge of impacting your overall health is bruxism. This is the medical term for teeth grinding, which may indicate stress, anxiety, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Stress management is reportedly the most effective method for eliminating the habit for good. In addition, your dentist might suggest a night guard to prevent the grinding. However, you may also need the services of your family doctor or a mental health counselor.

Acid Reflux

Like severe stress, acid reflux is so widespread that many don’t even know they have it. Your dentist, however, might confirm your suspicions of the disorder. The warning sign: erosion of tooth enamel and dentine, the soft layer beneath the enamel. Acid reflux causes gastric acid, or stomach bile, to move up your esophagus. This can erode tooth enamel, particularly in the upper back molars. Similarly, an excessive amount of saliva could clue your dentist in to acid reflux.

Excessive Drinking

Your dentist will be one of the first people to notice you are drinking too much. When a patient who used to have good oral health shows high levels of plaque or gum disease, alcoholism may be the reason. Both of these symptoms evolve at a faster pace than usual in people who increase their alcohol consumption, researchers say.

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A string of oral health problems, such as gum disease, bleeding gums, enamel erosion, or loose teeth, may point to diabetes. Diabetics are reportedly three times more likely to experience the most severe type of gum disease. Bacterial infections can also worsen other diabetic symptoms. In addition, they may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Talk to Your Dentist About Any Health Problems

It’s important to tell your dentist about any oral problems you are having, even those that seem relatively negligible. Then, if your dentist suspects the presence any of the above conditions, follow up with your doctor.

Heart Health and Oral Health

Scientists are still working to find the precise means to explain how dental health affects your heart. However, there is little if any doubt that the effects are real. Researchers have found that people with gum disease are nearly twice as likely to have heart disease. Therefore, a strong suspect is dental plaque. When we eat, tiny food particles stick to our teeth and attract bacteria.

If we brush and floss daily, the bacteria are less likely to turn into plaque. However, when plaque forms, it can turn into tartar, which may lead to gum disease. This allows bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream via the gums. Then, the bacteria can stick to fatty plaques in the bloodstream. Finally, the bacteria can trigger an inflammatory response. This natural response to infection causes blood vessels to swell, and as blood flow reduces due to the swelling, the risk for blood clots increases.

According to DentistryIQ, there are more than 85 million Americans with some form of cardiovascular disease and more than 200 million American adults with some form of gum disease. So, a focus on better oral health might help improve the nation’s heart health.

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Physical Frailty & Oral Health

Older adults’ health and well-being is an important public health issue. Older adults have a variety of oral health problems. For example, they often have lost a number of teeth. In addition, many have gum disease, cavities, and problems related to dry mouth. British researchers looked at whether these types of issues affect frailty in old age. Their study looked at men aged 71 to 92 in 24 British towns.

On the objective side, they looked at issues such as number of teeth and history of gum disease. On the subjective side, they asked about things like self-rated oral health. These included symptoms of dry mouth, tooth sensitivity, and whether the subjects had difficulty eating.

The Link Between Physical Frailty and Poor Oral Health

The study’s authors reported an association between poor oral health and frailty. To measure frailty, the researchers observed issues such as weight loss and the strength of the subjects’ grips. They also asked about feelings of exhaustion. In addition, they asked about subjects’ walking speeds and level of physical exercise. They found that having less than 21 teeth, complete tooth loss, fair to poor self-rated oral health, difficulty eating, dry mouth, and other problems led to a greater likelihood of frailty.

In addition, according to the authors, "These oral health problems have significant effects on eating and swallowing, nutritional intake, speaking, and smiling and thus affect several aspects of health and well-being." Moreover, the authors reported that loss of teeth and gum disease are "associated with greater risks of morbidity, physical and cognitive decline, and mortality."

These research findings shine a light on the significant role oral health plays in healthy aging.

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