What is the Relationship Between Oral and Overall Health?

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Did you know that caring for your oral health does more than just protect you against tooth decay and gum disease? In fact, maintaining your oral health can reduce your risk of developing a number of medical conditions such as pneumonia, heart attack, stroke, and more. This is because your oral health directly affects your overall health and vice versa. Therefore, it is important that you maintain your oral health in order to maintain your overall health. 

What Happens in the Mouth

microscopic view of the bacteria that cause tooth decay

To understand the relationship between your oral and overall health, we must first take a look at what goes on in your mouth. At a microscopic level, your mouth contains thousands of natural bacteria that protect your mouth from germs that enter the mouth. While these bacteria can be beneficial in limited quantities, excess bacteria is detrimental to your oral health. In fact, excess bacteria in the mouth are the key causes of both tooth decay and gum disease. 

This is because bacteria produce an acidic waste product that can erode your tooth enamel over time, which leads to the formation of dental cavities. Additionally, bacteria tend to accumulate along the gum line, which causes the gums to become inflamed and leads to gum disease. Since bacteria resides in dental plaque, it is important to regularly brush and floss to remove plaque and bacteria from the surface of your teeth and along the gum line. Conversely, poor oral hygiene leads to the accumulation of excess plaque, which eventually hardens into tartar. 

How it Affects the Body

Most people know that poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, but how does this affect the rest of your body? For starters, your mouth is like any other part of your body, meaning that it will become weaker and less likely to fight disease over time. This ultimately means that the bacteria associated with causing tooth decay and gum disease may no longer be contained solely in the mouth. Instead, they can enter the bloodstream and travel to other areas of the body. 

While bacteria from the mouth does not normally enter the bloodstream, this can happen when there are extremely large amounts of bacteria in the mouth that overrides the body’s natural defense system. Unfortunately, once these bacteria have entered the bloodstream, they can cause more than simply tooth decay and gum disease. In fact, depending on the location where the bacteria travels, it can cause the following: 

tooth in the shape of an anatomical heart
  • Heart attack (The University of North Carolina School of Dentistry found that out of 1,000 participants, individuals with gum disease were twice as likely to die from a heart attack) 
  • Endocarditis
  • Stroke (The University of North Carolina School of Dentistry found that out of 1,000 participants, individuals with gum disease were three times as likely to die from a stroke)
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory problems
  • Clogged arteries
  • Premature birth 
  • Low birth weight
  • Preeclampsia 
  • Diabetes 

Staying Healthy

As you can see, there is a clear relationship between your oral and overall health. Maintaining your oral health will not only decrease your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease, but it will also decrease your risk of developing various other medical conditions that occur as secondary complications. The best way to maintain your oral health is by practicing daily dental hygiene. This should include brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoridated toothpaste and flossing daily. Additionally, it is important to schedule regular dental exams and cleanings every six months. This allows your dentist to remove excess plaque and assess your oral health for possible complications. 

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