It is often overlooked how important oral health is to the overall health of the human body, as well as to the health of very specific body systems. Everything is in fact connected, and when we take a more holistic approach to our health, we discover more ways to stay healthy, recover from illnesses, and to better manage chronic health conditions from which we already suffer.
Research has shown that there is indeed a great connection between oral health and various chronic diseases. When we consider the fact that 6 out of 10 adults in the United States alone suffer from one or more chronic diseases, it quickly becomes evident that we should no longer overlook oral health.
Understanding the relationship between oral health and chronic disease can be confusing and is certainly less obvious to the average person. How could things as seemingly benign as cavities really have anything to do with something as serious as cancer, anyway? Although it may seem like a far-out idea, it is a reality. According to California dentist Dr. Guneet Alag, “It’s crucial that your dentist is aware of any chronic health issue. We may adjust our treatment plan for more frequent cleanings, fluoride application, or monitor for specific symptoms.” In this article, we will flesh out the complex and unique relationships between oral health and specific, common chronic diseases.
Diabetes is, according to the Oxford dictionary, “a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine.” To put this in simple terms, diabetes disrupts the body’s ability to process sugars.
How could this be related to oral health? Well, one common symptom of diabetes is dry mouth, indicated by less saliva in the oral cavity. Saliva is extremely important to oral health, as it helps prevent and slow the progression of cavities in the teeth. Therefore, those with diabetes may be more prone to cavities, which themselves can cause unfortunate health issues if left untreated, namely pulp exposure, periapical abscess, and finally tooth loss.
Moreover, diabetes impairs the healing process. If you have diabetes, you will notice that it takes much longer and is much harder for your body to heal various wounds, including sores that can pop up on the inside of your mouth. The longer they remain unhealed, the more prone they are to infection. This is why maintaining good oral hygiene is of critcially more importance for those who suffer from diabetes.
Heart disease and other cardiovascular illnesses
The relationship between oral and cardiovascular health is still being researched, but at this point it is widely believed in the medical community that there is in fact a link, as researchers have found that people with gum disease are two to three times more likely to have a “heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event.”
Auto-immune diseases and disorders
Although each auto-immune disorder has its own set of unique characteristics, auto-immune disorders essentially impact the body’s ability to fight off disease. Virus and bacterial infections can become more serious problems for an individual who suffers from an auto-immune disorder.
Because the mouth is full of bacteria, (some of it is beneficial, some of it is not), this means that those with an auto-immune disorder need to pay extra attention to their oral hygiene practices. Keeping the mouth clean and keeping the gums healthy. This could significantly reduce the chances of developing an infection that is that much harder to fight off with an auto-immune disorder.
Moreover, common side effects of auto-immune disease include the development of dry mouth and oral ulcers. As mentioned earlier, dry mouth can lead to cavities, and oral sores present yet another site of potential infection, not to mention discomfort. For these reasons, it is so important that anyone with an auto-immune disorder takes really good care of their oral health.
Links between cancer and oral health are numerous, varied, and sometimes convoluted depending on the type of cancer in question. Overall, however, oral health is linked to cancer in that poor oral hygiene practices, as well as habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, can mean a greater risk of developing oral cancer.
Further, when one has cancer and undergoes chemotherapy, their immune system is significantly weakened, meaning they are more prone to infection and have a harder time healing wounds or fighting off disease. Things like gum disease can become much more life-threatening to an individual with cancer, as the infection in the gums has the potential to spread to other parts of the body.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the body fails to replace bone tissue at the rate it is naturally lost (rate of bone deposition is lower than the rate of bone resorption), resulting in brittle, porous, and weak bones. Osteoporosis usually develops later in life and has a number of causes, the primary cause being a lifelong calcium deficiency. It is well known that teeth are surrounded by supporting bone, when this bone is weak and brittle this may have bad consequences on teeth leading to teeth mobility or even loss if they are subjected to abnormally high masticatory loads.