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Oral Health and Overall Health: How Each Impacts the Other

Oral health offers both clues to the state of overall health and allows dentists to identify health issues before other medical providers. Because people typically visit their dentists twice a year, dentists are usually the first to notice health problems. The state of our oral health is also a sign for other serious medical issues.


The mouth is essentially a mirror for overall health. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, "more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms."[i] An oral examination can reveal a number of concerns including signs of disease. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research explains that "the mouth can serve as an early warning system, diagnostic of systemic infectious disease and predictive of its progression, such as with HIV infection. Oral tissues may also reflect immune deficiency. For example, nearly all HIV-infected individuals develop oral lesions at some time during their illness."[ii] Additionally, the condition of our teeth is often indicative of degenerative conditions, like osteoporosis. Over 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoporosis. The NIDCR notes that because the condition is most prevalent in women, "most of the studies in this area have examined bone loss in women, and most investigators have reported a correlation between oral and skeletal bone loss... [They also] found a significant positive relationship between number of teeth and bone mineral density of the spine and the radius."1 During oral examinations, dentists also have visibility to the parotid glands and can spot a problem early on. "Swollen parotid glands are a cardinal sign of infection with the mumps virus and can also be seen in individuals with Sjögren's syndrome and HIV."[i]

Keeping your teeth clean and healthy is important, but gum health is an equally important component in oral care. Poor gum health can be a precursor to several specific diseases and conditions which include poorly controlled diabetes, cardiovascular disease and preterm birth Additionally, certain medical conditions like HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and osteoporosis can negatively impact oral health if proper oral care isn’t practiced.

But there’s been a disconnect within the medical community between dentists and physicians that makes diagnose and treatment slightly more complicated. If a dental professional notices an oral health issue that could be indicative of a larger health problem, they address it with the patient but may not necessarily follow-up with either the patient or the patient’s primary care doctor to ensure they receive appropriate treatment. Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist in Washington state, understands how the bodily systems are connected and impact one another and that a disconnect in patient care exists.  

"There’s a very significant breakdown in collaboration between physicians and dentists," Buck said.

Buck also recognizes his role in overall patient care and well-being.

"As a dentist, it’s incumbent upon me to first diagnose clearly, correctly and thoroughly," Buck said. "When patients are given all the information, they can make a clear, cognitive decision about a course of treatment."

Patients would benefit greatly from dentists and physicians working more closely to diagnose and treatment health conditions.

But before you find yourself needing to make major decisions about your oral or overall health, it’s important to keep your mouth healthy first and foremost. Practicing good oral care and hygiene is the first line of defense in preventing infection and disease. The Mayo Clinic recommends these six tips to protecting your oral health:

  • Brushing teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Flossing daily
  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • Replacing your toothbrush every three to four month
  • Scheduling bi-annual dental checkups and cleanings
  • Avoiding tobacco use

Prioritizing your oral health may very be the key to maintaining your overall health. 

 

 

 

[i] "Oral Health And Overall Health: Why A Healthy Mouth Is Good For Your Body." Oral Health And Overall Health: Why A Healthy Mouth Is Good For Your Body. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

 

[ii] National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Mon. 20 Mar. 2017.

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