How Does Dental Health Affect Overall Health?

Many people make the mistake in considering dental health as a separate component from physical and even mental health. In actuality, each of these is highly interconnected and can set off a chain reaction for better or worse, depending on how well you take care of your body. It’s a much better paradigm to consider your health comprehensively and take care of it as such. Though we frequently hear that proper dental hygiene and care is essential, it’s not so often that we hear why this is so.

Johns Family and Implant Dentistry answers these questions in the context of dental health as well as explaining how dental, physical, and mental health are all integral to each other.
Dentist and patientAs organic beings, humans are host to many naturally-occurring bacteria or microorganisms. For most people, healthy habits such as proper nutrition and good hygiene are enough to keep things in balance and under control. Oral care including proper brushing, regular flossing as well as regular dental check-ups help the body’s natural defenses keep these levels in check. However, when people relax on these proper dental routines, this can allow the ‘bad’ bacteria to excessively proliferate, possibly leading to numerous different health issues.

Researchers have found that there are billions of bacteria inhabiting the average person’s mouth; Dr. Walter Loesche from the University of Michigan estimates around 20 billion. Some oral bacteria was also found to proliferate in ideal conditions every 5 hours. However, brushing your teeth and your tongue can help prevent this proliferation. But Dr. Loesche warns, “There are 20 billion bacteria in your mouth and they reproduce every five hours. If you go 24 hours without brushing, those 20 billion become 100 billion!” To put it in perspective, that’s more than 14 times the amount of people inhabiting this earth!

Besides being a fascinating ‘petri dish’ of bacteria, why does this matter? If bacteria is left behind without proper brushing, it begins to form plaque, a sticky, invisible residue comprised of bacteria. If left longer still, this plaque develops along the gumline into calcified build-up called tartar. Mineral build-up in saliva can also contribute to the development of tartar. Either way, both tartar and plaque can begin to irritate the gingiva, or the part of the gums at the base of your teeth. The irritation can lead to red, swollen gums given to bleeding easily, noted especially during teeth brushing or cleaning.

When gums become swollen and inflamed, this condition is known as gingivitis. If left untreated, the worst case scenario is that the gingivitis will lead to periodontitis, or gum disease.

Periodontitis is serious for several reasons. At this stage, the inner lining of gum and bone incur damage, causing them to pull away from the tooth/teeth. This forms a gap or a pocket which is most inviting for bacteria to collect. As this toxic bacterial environment proliferates, the body’s immune system is triggered to fight the infection. In more serious cases of periodontitis, the damage caused by both the toxins and the body’s attempts to destroy the bacteria continue to affect the surrounding tissue, weakening the tooth’s support system and eventually leading to tooth loss.

Here we see the most obvious connection between oral and physical health. With chronic inflammation and irritation, harmful bacteria are more likely to enter the bloodstream and take up residence in other places of the body.

For people with strong immune systems, the risk factors of a more serious complication are less. However, for those with compromised immune systems, these circumstances can present an endangerment to their health.

The following are some of the more serious complications resulting in the spread of bacteria through the bloodstream:

Cardiovascular Disease: The traveling bacteria can affect the arteries of the heart and contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Plaque in the form of cholesterol and other substances collect in these areas which can eventually restrict or even block blood flow, resulting in heart attack or stroke. Researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered that people with gum disease were twice as likely to die of heart attack, and three times as likely to die from a stroke.

Endocarditis: Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart. This can result from bacteria spreading through the bloodstream and attaching to your heart.

Respiratory Infections Bacteria traveling through the bloodstream and settling in the lungs can escalate into respiratory infections like pneumonia or chronic conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Diabetic Complications Diabetes and gum disease are more interconnected than most other complications from gum disease. Bacteria thrive on sugars, which people with diabetes have trouble controlling. Those who are less stringent with their diabetic care can promote these problems more easily. The blood vessels of people with diabetes are typically thicker, which slows down the delivery of nutrients through the bloodstream, as well as slowing the movement of waste and toxins away from their source. Consequently, gums and bone tissue can weaken and become more susceptible to infection. However, people who adhere to proper diabetic care and are able to reduce blood sugar levels see a correlated improvement in their oral health as well.

The above-described are the more serious consequences of a chain reaction from poor oral and dental care. However, the reverse can happen as well.

Sometimes, certain diseases or chronic conditions of the body can affect a person’s dental health, even if they practice good oral hygiene. In particular, diseases or conditions that involve a compromised immune system such as cancer, HIV, Crohn’s, Down’s Syndrome, etc. make a person more susceptible. The body’s reduced ability to fight off bacteria lead to increased infections and inflammatory conditions. In other cases, such as osteoporosis, periodontitis is caused by overall increased bone deterioration.

Mental health is also affected by proper oral & physical health care, for various reasons. Often times, when a person’s physical health is poor, their psyche reacts accordingly. With chronic or severe health conditions especially, a person may feel frustration, despair, or even anger. Studies have shown people that depressed spirits or a negative/cynical attitude slows the healing process, as opposed to the uplifting effect of a more positive outlook.

Additionally, people with dental health problems may feel insecure about their teeth or their smile. With our culture’s emphasis on appearance, this can contribute to self-esteem issues as well.

For all of these reasons, it is crucial to have regular dental check-ups. As we discussed, some conditions cannot be prevented with good oral hygiene alone.

Johns Family and Implant Dentistry encourages you to take charge of your health. Whether you are seeking a dentist, needing to switch to a new one, or just want to make an inquiry, our compassionate staff is here to help. We realize it can be difficult to make a trip to the dentist, but our goal is to make you as comfortable, happy, and healthy as we can.

We are accepting new patients. Please contact our Johns Family and Implant Dentistry practice to schedule an appointment or discuss any questions or concerns. We look forward to hearing from you!