When speaking with people about the importance of oral care, you want to consider not just the benefits to your smile. Your oral health is not just impacting your teeth and gums, but your body as well. Diet and exercise are something you practice on a consistent basis, and so should your oral care.
Turns out, your daily brushing and flossing help protect your heart, and other organs, including preventing stroke, heart attack, diabetes management, and preterm labor for pregnant mothers. That is because infections in the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to other areas of the body and cause problems.
Let’s look at what your saliva tells your doctor about what is happening with your body. AIDS and diabetes are known as systemic diseases, which affects your body overall, not just certain parts. With these two illnesses, they present themselves in the mouth as oral lesions.
The Academy of General Dentistry states that over 90% of all systemic diseases show up in the mouth and give us an indication that something else is going on. Testing your saliva can reveal the stress response in newborn infants, while proteins found in bones can provide information about osteoporosis. Even certain cancers can leave behind information in your saliva.
Saliva can also tell your doctor what environmental toxins you have been exposed to, and reveal information about hepatitis or HIV infection by analyzing your antibodies and hormones. There are efforts being made to use saliva tests instead of blood tests to diagnose and monitor infectious disease, liver cirrhosis, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.
Under normal circumstances, your oral bacteria doesn’t enter the bloodstream. But when you have dental procedures microbes from your mouth can travel. If you have gum disease, for example, brushing too hard or flossing too hard can damage the infected tissue and let the microbes enter the bloodstream.
Another way that bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream is by having dry mouth, which is the reduction of healthy saliva flow via medications, treatments, or taking antibiotics which affect the healthy balance of oral bacteria and disrupt your normal immune response.
A healthy immune system protects you from this. But if it is weakened by an illness, disease, or treatment of one of these, such as cancer, then the oral bacteria traveling in the bloodstream can make you vulnerable to infection elsewhere. For example, when the bacteria from the mouth reaches the lining of heart valves that are already diseased, it can cause infection there.
If you have periodontitis or chronic gum disease, you risk tooth loss over time. But this gum infection has also been linked to heart disease, preterm birth, and even impacts the control of diabetes. With diabetes, the infection can disrupt the blood sugar because of insulin resistance. With heart disease, severe oral inflammation can inflame the arteries and impact blood clotting.
When it comes to preterm birth, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research calculates that up to 18% of preterm babies in the U.S. born with low birth weight can be due to infections in the mouth. It is possible that the bacteria emit toxins which pass through the mother’s bloodstream into the placenta, affecting the growing fetus. Combined with the infection causing the mother to release labor-inducing substances that cause premature labor.
Taking care of your oral health and your body, and attending to dental issues in a timely manner not only benefits your smile but your overall health and well-being. This investment of time, energy, and resources has far-reaching benefits, or consequences, depending on your choices. Your body depends on your healthy teeth and gums for longterm health and happiness.