Oral Health – Overall Health
Although seeing a dentist is no substitute for a visit to a physician, regular dental checkups can reveal much more about your overall health than one might think. Did you know that over 120 medical conditions, some of which can be life-threatening, can be detected early by a visit to the dentist? A very large percentage of health conditions can have oral symptoms such as swollen or bleeding gums, ulcers, dry mouth, bad breath, metallic taste and various other changes in your mouth. Our overall health is very closely linked with our oral health. Let’s take a look at a few examples of a common disease or illness that has a strong relationship with our oral hygiene and health.
According to a 2011 poll across the United States, 25.8 million people have diabetes (diabetes.org). Although that is an astonishing number, it continues to rise and diabetes is considerably more prevalent now than it was in this poll a couple years ago. Chances are, if you are reading this, you know of someone who has diabetes. How does diabetes have anything to do with our oral health? Studies show that people with diabetes are more susceptible to the development of gum disease and other oral health problems than those who do not have diabetes. It also shows that people with diabetes have more tooth loss than those who do not. Why is this? Diabetes slows down the healing process and lowers resistance to infections, including oral infections. For those with diabetes, it is all the more important to
maintain healthy oral hygiene. By brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and eating a healthy diet with essential nutrients like vitamins A and C, a diabetic can greatly reduce their chances of oral infection. Regular visits to the dentist can detect oral infection early and remedy the problem immediately.
Although research does not prove that gum disease causes heart disease, or vica versa, studies do show that those with moderate or advanced gum disease are more likely to have cardiovascular disease. The risk factors for gum disease are the same as those for heart disease. According to the Harvard Medical School, people with periodontitis (erosion of tissue and bone that support the teeth), chewing and tooth brushing release bacteria into the bloodstream. Several species of bacteria that cause periodontitis have been found in the atherosclerotic plaque in arteries in the heart and elsewhere. This plaque can lead to heart attack (health.harvard.edu). Although there is continued study in the relationship between oral health and heart disease, we do know that maintain good oral hygiene is a sure way to combat oral diseases. According to this, and other recent studies, a healthy mouth means one less avenue for bacteria to enter our body.
If your dentist is not screening for oral cancer and other cancers of the head and neck, including skin cancer, cancer of the jaw bone and thyroid cancer, during regular checkups, then you may want to find another dentist. Survival rates greatly increase when oral cancers are detected early. During your next visit, ask your dentist about cancer screenings, as these are standard practice in most offices.
The obvious, and most notorious cause of oral, neck, and head cancers is tobacco use. Tobacco use increases the risk of cavities and gum recession (which leads to tooth loss). This cancer-causing agent also slows down the healing of gum tissue, and increases the risk of gum disease. In one study, 40% of smokers lost their teeth by the end of their lives (health.nytimes.com).
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
• Any sore in the mouth that persists longer than two weeks
• A swelling, growth or lump anywhere in or around the mouth or neck
• White or red patches in the mouth or on the lips
• Repeated bleeding from the mouth or throat
• Difficulty swallowing or persistent hoarseness
If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to visit a dentist or medical professional immediately. While studies are ongoing in linking specific diseases with oral diseases, we know that taking care of our mouth and teeth is imperative in maintaining overall health. Do not neglect your oral hygiene, for it is a key ingredient in a long-lasting and healthy life.