Our bodies are a complex series of systems that work together to form an overall picture of our total health. If we have one system that is not functioning properly, it has an effect on the rest of our body. Often times it is thought that our teeth and gums are isolated from the rest of our body, but this is not the case. When we have problems with our mouths, it can be an indicator of more problems with our overall health. There are many diseases that have oral manifestations, and there are links to other systems that may start in the mouth.
It’s Good for the Body
By Mark McOmie, D.M.D.
Did you know that heart disease is linked to gum disease? Research now suggests that if you have heart disease, you probably have gum disease; and if you correct one, you will help the other. Better yet, if you prevent one, you may prevent the other. Keeping a healthy mouth could be helping to keep you heart-healthy.
Recent studies have shown that low birth weight and pre-mature births are much higher in women who have gum disease. It is a very simple thing to keep your mouth healthy, and it will help give your baby a leg up with a longer gestation time and a healthier birth weight! This is a great advantage a mother can give to her infant.
Diabetics often times have more advanced periodontitis (gum disease) or gingivitis despite brushing and flossing habits. Diabetics don’t respond as well to therapy to heal infections so it is important to keep good oral care and sugar levels under control so oral conditions don’t spiral out of control.
Osteoporosis is reflected in the mouth as well. Our teeth are attached by a small ligament to our bone. When the bone is unhealthy the teeth can become loose and this can lead to tooth loss. Women are at especially high risk of osteoporosis. Frequently, to combat this they are placed on a class of drugs called bisphosphonates, like brand name Fosamax. This has a very rare but possible side effect known as “dead jaw.” Most dead jaw cases arise from oral surgery such as extractions. If you have a healthy mouth and don’t need an extraction while on these medications, then the risk is greatly decreased.
Infections in the mouth tax the immune system needlessly. An infection in your mouth does not necessarily mean you have an abscessed tooth. Gingivitis and periodontitis are infections as well. If you see blood when you brush and floss, you at least have gingivitis. You should not have any bleeding when doing routine oral care. If your finger bled when you washed your hands, you would be alarmed, but for some reason bleeding gums are tolerated. Bleeding gums are a sign of infection and inflammation, which is not healthy and will tax the other systems in the body. If you have bleeding gums, especially a spot you can’t seem to get to stop, ask your dentist to help you get the spot healthy. Usually this can be treated rather easily and health restored in a matter of weeks.
Tooth decay is the most common disease in America. More days of school are missed each year for tooth pain than for colds. Decay comes from acid that demineralizes our teeth. Low pH values are acidic; our teeth start to demineralize at a pH of 4. pH values for some of the candy our kids eat are:
• Warhead Sour Spray 1.6
• Sour Skittles 2
• Brach’s Gummi Bears 2.5
• Wonka Nerds Grape 2.0.
Compare this to battery acid at pH of 1. What we eat is one source of acid in our mouth, but acid also comes from specific bacteria: Strep mutans and Strep sobrinus. Both easily convert simple carbohydrates like bread into acid that eats into our teeth. If your mouth does not have these bacteria, your risk of decay is much lower. Current research suggests you can combat these bacteria by chewing gum containing 6-9 grams xylitol. Ice Breakers gum called Ice Cubes contains almost a gram of xylitol. So two pieces of gum, three times daily can kill these bacteria, leading to less risk of decay. This is not a replacement for brushing and flossing but can be a great supplement.
Oral health and overall health go hand in hand. It is important to not think that oral health is somehow an isolated problem. Keeping your oral health in tip top shape is important, and by having a six-month regular cleaning, it can even be a relaxing experience. Remember, it is not just the teeth, it is the whole body you are keeping healthy!