All of the systems of the human body are interconnected and dependent on each other. When a dentist examines an individual’s teeth, they can learn a lot more about their health than one might think. There is a clear connection between oral health and overall health.
The street goes both ways: Not only does poor oral hygiene hurt a person’s overall health, but symptoms of many diseases can appear in the mouth. Dentists can help individuals prevent serious illness through regular cleanings, and even help diagnose illnesses before they worsen.
Many of us see our dentists more often than our doctor. This puts them in the unique position of being the first line of defense in detecting serious problems like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Symptoms such as bleeding gums and dry mouth could be indicative of diabetes. Excessive plaque buildup and gum inflammation might point to heart disease. Receding gums could reveal a case of osteoporosis. These are only a few discoveries that an expert might find.
There are over a hundred different conditions that can be deduced through an oral examination. According to Access Health, a thorough examination could reveal the early oral manifestations of 120 different systemic diseases. This was explored in an interview with Chief Science Officer Jed Jacobson. Jacobson gave examples of the ailments that dentists might be able to diagnose, such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and oral cancer. It is important to address most of these problems as early as possible. An experienced practitioner could inform patients so that they will quickly seek treatment.
Good oral hygiene may also prevent many serious illnesses. While obvious issues like cavities and tooth decay will occur without proper care, life-threatening problems can also develop. While there is no conclusive evidence to tie poor oral hygiene to diabetes or heart disease, researchers have found that maintaining oral health can protect overall health.
Studies suggest that bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream. While bacteria can cause cavities in teeth, certain types of bacteria can even enter through the blood vessels of the mouth. While holes in blood vessels are not big enough to cause bleeding, they do permit bacteria to enter. If any teeth have been extracted, bacteria can also use those sites as entryways. Once in the body, bacteria can travel to the brain, heart, or elsewhere.
This opens the door to countless potential problems:
- If bacteria invades the bloodstream and attaches to abnormal areas of the heart, endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart) can develop. This can damage the heart, and is sometimes fatal.
- One study has found a link between poor oral hygiene and cancer. In this study, ten percent of the adults who rated their oral health from “poor” to “fair” tested positive for human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can eventually lead to cancer. A cancer-linked virus can enter the body and cause mouth or throat cancer.
- Bacteria in the mouth can also also leave an individual susceptible to viral infections. STDs can be transmitted more easily to and from people with poor dental health through sexual contact.
The best advice for preventing such illness is predictable: The best way to protect yourself is by practicing good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day, floss, and use antiseptic mouthwash. It is important to use a soft brush, and to brush gently; being rough on your gums can tear your blood vessels, creating pathways for bacteria to enter your mouth. Flossing helps to remove plaque and prevent gum disease. An antiseptic mouthwash rinses your mouth of bacteria. When done regularly, these habits can prevent potentially serious issues.