Did you know that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body? You’re probably thinking that I am stating something that is obvious but in reality, many fail to see the connection between oral and systemic health. In other words, what happens in the mouth effects your entire body and not just the mouth alone. Let’s dive in and explained how the mouth and body are connected and how you can prevent serious illnesses such as heart disease.
When we think about oral health, we think about our teeth and gums. Although this is true, we forget to include the bacteria in our mouths.
We as humans naturally have millions of bacteria in our oral cavity. Some are good and some are bad bacteria. When there is an imbalance in the good and bad bacteria is when we are at higher risk for poor oral health. Here is why.
Our diets play a huge role in our oral health and our systemic health. In the mouth, if you eat candy, you get cavities. This is what you have all been told by someone at some point in your lives. This is true, but not completely true. Here is what I mean.
Candy aka sugars, are eaten up by bad bacteria and as a result, these bad bacteria produce acid as a byproduct. In other words, they eat the sugars and poop out acid. This acid is what degreases the outer layer of your teeth called the enamel. This leads to cavities, aka holes in your teeth,
We need to balance the bacteria in our mouth to ensure that the bad bacteria does not outgrow the good bacteria. When we consume a lot of sugary foods and drinks within a day, this creates a acidic environment in our mouth.
Going back to our chemistry days, acids have a low pH and bases have a higher pH. Water for example has a neutral pH of 7. When your oral cavity gets below a pH of 5.5, this is when cavities begin to form.
When the pH in your mouth drops below 5.5, your enamel begins to break down and a cavity starts to form. Naturally, your saliva has calcium and phosphate ions in it which helps to neutralize this acid and bring the pH back up to a neutral pH of 7.
However, if you sip soda all day long and frequently eat sugary foods, your saliva cannot catch up and neutralize the acid in your mouth. This is why we having a saying in dentistry: “Sip all day you get decay.”
Now, lets assume you are not the best brusher and flosser. What happens? Well, food, bacteria and plaque buildup on your teeth and gums and add more fuel to the fire.
Now, the bacteria has a constant supply of sugars and carbohydrates to feed off of and produce more and more acid. This acid build up and bacterial build up can cause your gums to become inflamed and bleed easily. This is called gingivitis.
To cure gingivitis, you need to get a cleaning done by your dental hygienist or dentist. If gingivitis is not treated, this can develop into periodontal disease.
Gingivitis is reversible while periodontitis is not. Let me say that again, gingivitis can be reversed and cured. However, periodontal disease cannot be reversed or cured. Once you have periodontal disease, you have it for good and the only thing we can do is manage it.
Managing periodontal disease involves scaling and root planing, also know as a deep cleaning or SRP. Once you get this deep cleaning, you are placed on a cleaning schedule that requires you to come in every 3-4 months for a cleaning called periodontal maintenance.
Annual Dental Visits
It is extremely important for you to stay on too of your oral health and see your dentist at least once a year. By visiting your dentist, you can catch any issues you are having early and address them. Imagine if you had gingivitis and all you needed was a cleaning and the gingivitis was gone!
Now imagine if you haven’t gone to the dentist in 3 years. This gingivitis develops into periodontal disease and and now you are stuck with it for good, requiring more cleaning and placing your overall health at risk. Prevention is key! See your dentist for regular dental checkups.
Oral Health and Cardiovascular Disease
So, you don’t brush or floss your teeth, you have a big buildup of bacteria in the mouth and you haven’t seen your dentist in a while. What happened next?
Your mouth is full of bacteria. Most of this bacteria is not good bacteria because your oral health is poor. Your gums are inflamed and bleed very easily.
What do you think happens with the bacteria when your gums bleed? When you get a cut, or opening in the mouth where blood is present, the bacteria now has direct access to your blood stream.
Preventing gum disease and maintains oral health is very important for your overall health. When you get a bacterial infection, this buildup of bacteria has direct access to your blood stream.
This means that the bacterial infection can travel to anywhere the blood flows in your body, including your heart!
There are many research articles that the American Dental Association supports, highlighting the the link between gum disease and oral bacteria with systemic inflammation and risk of heart disease.
There are many risk factors for developing heart disease and periodontal disease is one of them.
Healthy gums helps prevent heart disease.
The American Heart Association lists periodontal disease as a risk factor for cardiovascular risks. Poor oral health puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular events, chronic inflammation, poor cardiovascular health, heart attack, inflamed blood vessels, and other systemic diseases.
Oral Health and Reducing Risk Factors
Poor oral hygiene, aka a lack of daily flossing and brushing can lead to cavities, tooth loss, loose teeth, bone loss, and many other systemic diseases.
Your oral cavity is directly connected with the rest of your body. If there are any areas where blood is coming into the mouth, the bacteria has direct access to your blood line.
For example, you have gingivitis and your gums bleed along the gum line. The bacteria in your mouth gets into your blood stream and it can travel all over your body.
If this bacteria is constantly flowing in your blood stream, it can cause immune cells to respond and attack it. This causes your artery walls to develop plaque buildup and the walls become inflamed. This inflammation can case your arteries to become stiff and effect your blood pressure and blood flow.
Let’s say that a piece of this plaque build up on your artery wall breaks loose and is now traveling in your blood stream. If this loose plaque buildup gets to your heart, it can cause a block in the blood flow supplying your heart. This can lead to coronary artery disease, increased risk for a heath attack and poor heart health.
This can all be prevented by improving your oral hygiene and visiting your medical and dental providers.
Remember, gingivitis is preventable and curable. Your dentist will need to clean your teeth and show you how to maintain your oral hygiene at home with proper brushing and flossing techniques.
If gingivitis is left untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease and this is not curable!
Periodontal disease will require periodontal treatment to prevent severe periodontitis from forming. If severe periodontitis is present, you can expect to see severe bone loss, loose teeth, other systemic health issues.
To maintain periodontal disease, you may need to have a deep cleaning performed first. This helps to physically remove the plaque and bacterial build up under your gums around each tooth. Once this is complete, you will need to come in for periodontal maintenance every 3-4 months to prevent the build up from getting too large again.
Now, when you think of oral health, I want you to make the connection with systemic health. What happens in your mouth can affect your entire body and vice versa. We haven’t even talked about how diabetes can present itself in the mouth or how the bacteria in the mouth can cause complications with diabetes. That’s is a whole other post.
Bad bacteria causes the cavities in the mouth. Acids aka, sugary foods and drinks, can break down the outer layer of your teeth called the enamel and can cause cavities. If you have poor oral hygiene and don’t brush and floss your teeth, you can get gingivitis.
Gingivitis causes your gums to bleed and get inflamed. This si reversible with a cleaning done by your dentist or dental hygienist.
If you leave gingivitis untreated, it can develop into periodontal disease which is not curable. The bacteria in your mouth can get into your blood stream and travel to all of the same places your blood travels to in your body, basically everywhere!
This oral bacteria is not supposed to be in the blood stream so as a result, your body attacks it and responds to this bacterial invasion with a inflammation response. The inflammation response of the body causes other issues with blood flow and increased risk factors for other organs as well.
Maintain your oral health and see your dentist annually to help prevent risks for heart disease and other systemic diseases.
- Dr. Gibbz (Public Health Dentist)