Your Dental Health Can Indicate Other Health Issues
By: Matthew Norman, DDS and Michelle Phillips, RDH
Your teeth, gums, tongue, and overall oral health are a reliable indicator of other overall health issues. Heart disease, diabetes, HIV, osteoporosis and eating disorders are examples of health issues which have symptoms visible in the mouth. Teaming with your Dental Office for regular checkups can help identify these conditions.
Cardiovascular disease is very closely linked with the health of your mouth and the presence of infection. Those with periodontal (gum) disease are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Some studies have suggested that heart disease, clogged arteries and even stroke may be associated with the oral bacteria present with periodontal disease. Your mouth has an abundance of bacteria— both good and bad. Bacteria have the ability to enter your bloodstream, especially in an unhealthy mouth with swollen or bleeding gums. Once in your bloodstream, the dangerous bacteria can pass to your heart and cause infection in the inner lining of the heart. This is a very important reason to maintain optimal oral hygiene. By practicing good brushing and flossing habits, bacteria remain at healthy levels and have a lessened chance of entering the bloodstream.
Your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body and can reveal a great deal about your overall health. Diabetes is an example of a systemic disease which has a direct relationship with your oral health. Diabetes inhibits the body’s ability to fight against infection. People with diabetes must keep their blood sugar levels under control. When a diabetic patient has uncontrolled blood sugar levels, the risk of having more-frequent and severe gum infections increases—opposed to those with controlled blood sugar levels.
Other systemic diseases that can be detected based on conditions present in the mouth. HIV / AIDS patients are prone to having painful sores in the mouth. They also have an increased risk of developing thrush—a fungal infection in the mouth. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become weak and fragile. This includes the bones of the jaw that support your teeth, which can eventually lead to tooth loss. Patients suffering from eating disorders, such as bulimia, can cause chemical erosion to their teeth due to the stomach acid which consistently comes in contact with the teeth.
Not only is saliva your main defense mechanism against the harmful bacteria and viruses in your mouth, but it can be a tool in diagnosing systemic disease. Dental offices now have the ability to test and analyze your saliva. The testing can diagnose many diseases such as: diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver, oral cancer, breast cancer, HIV, hepatitis, periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease. These conditions have specific markers which show up in your saliva that these tests can identify. Salivary tests are completely harmless and non-invasive to perform.
Your mouth is a vital information source about the condition of your overall health. Practicing excellent oral hygiene will help to keep your mouth and teeth healthy, as well as other areas of your body. It is important to see your dentist on a regular basis to ensure your mouth is in a healthy condition. Your regular dental appointment is also an opportunity for your dentist to examine your mouth and check for conditions which can indicate the presence of other diseases.