How Oral Health Is Affecting Your Overall Health
More commonly known as gum disease, periodontitis is the sixth-most common health condition globally. According to the World Health Organization, severe periodontal diseases affect around 19% of the worldwide population, and more generally, oral diseases impact some 3.5 billion people.
Oral health issues are stunningly prevalent in our society. And this becomes all the more urgent when you consider the deep, complex, bidirectional relationship between your oral health and your overall health.
Associations between periodontal diseases and systemic conditions (i.e. affecting the entire body) have been widely studied, often attributed to the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream and pro-inflammatory proteins that can affect other parts of your body. These associations occur via shared underlying pathways and exposure to common risk factors, such as age, socio-economic status and lifestyle choices.
Scientific research has helped us understand these links with greater clarity, underscoring the importance of managing these risk factors and prioritising excellent oral care for those with predisposing traits.
Here we’ll explore some of the known associations between oral health and overall health, including links to systemic diseases, pregnancy implications, and a range of other potential associations.
Oral health and systemic diseases
As we’ve explored in the past, research has surfaced dozens of links between systemic health issues and gum disease. Explained at length in the linked article, these systemic links have been seen with a number of very common conditions, including:
Obviously, these are all very serious health issues. If you have a genetic predisposition to any of them, it’s wise to place extra emphasis on taking great care of your teeth and gums to avoid oral health issues that could exacerbate or complicate noncommunicable diseases like these. Familiarise yourself with symptoms and indicators of each, and take a proactive approach to communicating with both your dentist and physician about any concerns.
Oral health and pregnancy
During pregnancy, we advise being especially mindful of the connection between your oral health and overall health – not to mention the overall health of your little one!
Many women – as many as 67-100% – experience gingivitis during pregnancy, even those who are taking good care of their oral health and might not have had such issues in the past. This is nothing to be alarmed about! This heightened inflammatory response is the body’s natural reaction to an increase in sex hormones.
Knowing that your gums may be a little extra tender and sensitive, be careful but intentional with your oral care routine, even in the midst of pregnancy gingivitis.
Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and make sure to clean interdentally each day.
Some other oral health factors to keep in mind during a pregnancy:
- Women sometimes experience an increase in saliva production during pregnancy. This is normal.
- For those who experience morning sickness, it is advisable not to brush your teeth within one hour of vomiting, as the gastric acid can make your teeth more susceptible to wear from the abrasives in toothpaste.
Other general health implications of oral health issues
Studies have identified a number of smaller and more subtle health effects that can be traced back to oral health, some of which may relate to the systemic health issues cited above.
1. Lack of appetite
There have been studies on the relationship between poor oral health and eating disorders, but at a more general level, tooth and gum pain have the propensity to alter eating habits for the simple reason that it can hurt to bite and chew. If you find that oral health issues are affecting your desire or ability to eat the foods you normally enjoy – especially those that help to keep gingivitis at bay – it should serve as an immediate prompt to go see your dentist.
2. COVID-19 severity
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage around the world, it is vital that we all remain vigilant against its many impacts and implications. The connection between oral health and COVID-19 has come into greater focus under study from the medical community.
There is evidence that advanced gum disease can make a person more likely to suffer complications from about with COVID-19, including ICU admission, need for ventilator assistance, and death. At the same time, good oral health can reduce fatal outcomes.
A study of more than 13,000 patients from general practices in the UK “demonstrated an association between chronic gingivitis and subsequent depression.” The link was seen across men and women of all age groups.
People all around the world are struggling with their mental health during the challenging times we face. If you’re among them, don’t feel alone and please don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
What should you do?
As these main examples reiterate, your oral health and overall health are interlinked in profound and fundamental ways. If you notice any of these effects, and suspect they may relate in some way to your oral health, it’s worth getting in touch with your physician and dentist to form a plan.
In general, use this information as a motivator to create and sustain a healthy lifestyle that protects both your oral AND overall health!
Mitigating lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, drinking, poor diet, and lack of exercise can benefit your wellness in multiple ways.