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What’s the connection
between oral health and
overall health?
Like many areas of the body, your
mouth is teeming with bacteria -
most of them harmless. Normally
the body’s natural defenses and
good oral health care, such as daily
brushing and flossing, can keep these
bacteria under control. However,
without proper oral hygiene, bacteria
can reach levels that might lead to
oral infections, such as tooth decay
and gum disease.
In addition, certain medications
- such as decongestants,
antihistamines, painkillers and
diuretics - can reduce saliva flow.
Saliva washes away food and
neutralizes acids produced by
bacteria in the mouth, helping to
protect you from microbial invasion
or overgrowth that might lead to
disease.
Studies also suggest that oral bacteria
and the inflammation associated
with periodontitis - a severe form of
gum disease - might play a role in
some diseases. In addition, certain
diseases, such as diabetes and
HIV/AIDS, can lower the body’s
resistance to infection, making oral
health problems more severe.
What conditions may be
linked to oral health?
Your oral health might affect, be
affected by, or contribute to various
diseases and conditions, including:
Endocarditis.
Endocarditis is an
infection of the inner lining of your
heart (endocardium). Endocarditis
typically occurs when bacteria or
other germs from another part of
your body, such as your mouth,
spread through your bloodstream
and attach to damaged areas in
your heart.
Cardiovascular disease.
Some research suggests that
heart disease, clogged arteries
and stroke might be linked to the
inflammation and infections that
oral bacteria can cause.
Pregnancy and birth.
Periodontitis has been linked to
premature birth and low birth
weight.
Diabetes.
Diabetes reduces
the body’s resistance to infection
- putting the gums at risk. Gum
disease appears to be more frequent
and severe among people who
have diabetes. Research shows that
people who have gum disease have
a harder time controlling their
blood sugar levels.
HIV/AIDS.
Oral problems, such
as painful mucosal lesions, are
common in people who have HIV/
AIDS.
Osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis
- which causes bones to become
weak and brittle - might be linked
with periodontal bone loss and
tooth loss.
Alzheimer’s disease.
Tooth
loss before age 35 might be a risk
factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Other conditions.
Other
conditions that might be linked
to oral health include Sjogren’s
syndrome - an immune system
disorder that causes dry mouth -
and eating disorders.
Because of these potential links,
be sure to tell your dentist if you’re
taking any medications or have
had any changes in your overall
health - especially if you’ve had
any recent illnesses or you have
a chronic condition, such as
diabetes.
How can I protect
my oral health?
To protect your oral health,
practice good oral hygiene every
day. For example:
• Brush your teeth at least twice
a day.
• Floss daily.
• Eat a healthy diet and limit
between-meal snacks.
• Replace your toothbrush every
three to four months or sooner
if bristles are frayed.
• Schedule regular dental
checkups.
Also, contact your dentist as soon
as an oral health problem arises.
Remember, taking care of your
oral health is an investment in
your overall health.
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July/Aug 2014