Teeth and Gums Reveal the Inside Story of Overall General Health
Nothing is as Good as Prevention
Meticulous oral hygiene is best, coupled with professional measures and exams. While an old saying advises "the eyes are the window to the soul," modern dental research says the mouth provides an even better view of the body as a whole.
Some of the earliest signs of diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, hormone imbalances and drug issues show up in the gums, teeth and tongue long before a patient knows anything is wrong. And there's growing evidence that oral health problems, particularly gum disease, raise the risk of some illnesses.
Moving Toward the Direction of Overall Health
Oral systemic connection - The mouth is connected to the whole body. A thorough exam can display manifestations of systemic diseases. Some of those include measles, Rubella, diphtheria, AIDS, mononucleosis, blood diseases, vitamin deficiencies and metabolic disorders such as diabetes and other chronic diseases. They may show up as lesions, sores, discoloration, coatings and yeast infections. Such findings are fueling a push for dentists to play a greater role in a patient's health.
There's No Cure like Prevention
Periodontal disease involves pathogens (strong damage-causing bacteria) that form a coating around the teeth and inside the gum line, creating inflammation, infection and bone loss.
It's not something easily beaten, once you have periodontal disease you're never officially rid of it, you only manage it. It is even suggested that patients see the dentist every three months because every six months is just not enough to keep the levels of inflammation down. For those fortunate enough to have dental insurance, more frequent cleanings and exams may be covered if there is documented proof of necessity.
An estimated 6 million Americans have diabetes but don't know it. And a 2009 study from New York University found that 93 percent of people who have periodontal disease are at risk for diabetes.
A Catch-22 Situation
Inflammation from infected gums make it difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood-sugar level, and high blood sugar accelerates tooth decay and gum disease, creating more inflammation. A large percentage of people with diabetes will develop periodontal disease. This is attributed to the fact that they are more susceptible to infections. Uncontrolled diabetics are particularly at risk.
Recent studies show that treating gum disease improves circulation, reduces inflammation and may even reduce the need for insulin in people with diabetes. The less inflammation, the easier it is to control your sugar level, and when your sugar is under control, you may need less insulin. While poor oral hygiene carries a risk for just about everyone, certain people are more susceptible than others. For pregnant women, periodontal disease can create complications, namely early-term and low birth-weight babies.
Matters of The Heart
There's also growing evidence of the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular problems. Inflammation in the gums raises C-reactive protein, thought to be a culprit in heart disease.
They've found oral bacteria in the plaques that block arteries. It's moved from a casual relationship to a risk factor.
That risk happens because the mouth has very high concentrations of bacteria. Insult, injury and even brushing introduce bacteria into the usually sterile bloodstream. This creates a systemic inflammatory response that has been shown to play a role in heart disease, and is also the theory behind bacterial pneumonia. Mouth bacteria traveling through the bloodstream can cause problems elsewhere, which is why people contemplating elective surgery are advised to have necessary dental work performed beforehand.
The American Heart Association, American Medical Association and American Orthopedic Association all urge people who have had full-joint replacement to take an antibiotic before any dental visit — for the rest of their lives. It reduces the risk of post-surgical infections.
Dentists also need up-to-date information on their patients' medications, supplements and over-the-counter drugs. Blood thinners can create excess bleeding, and osteoporosis drugs called bisphosphonates can severely weaken jaw bones. Calcium-channel blockers, drugs for high blood pressure and some anti-inflammatory drugs can cause gum ulcerations.
Medications are a tough topic and challenge because they generally cause dry mouth. If you bump your brush on the gum, cheek or lip, or your denture is real dry and rubs it can cause a sore or ulcer. Dry mouth also increases the risk of dental decay. It is recommended to discuss side effects with your doctor to see if an alternative medication is available, and also suggests products to reduce dry mouth such as nonalcoholic fluoride rinses and xylitol — an ingredient in many sugarless gums — which is actually good for your teeth. Of course, there's always water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that dentists offer HIV testing because some of the first symptoms appear in the mouth. HIV is sometimes diagnosed after finding Karposi's sarcoma, which can turn up as a lesion in the mouth or skin. It's confirmed by biopsy and a test for HIV if no history is indicated.
Don't Be Fooled by a Bright Smile
A gleaming white smile is a sign of a healthy mouth, right? Not necessarily. In fact, many dentists worry that people who whiten their teeth, and even people who have no cavities, can still be harboring tooth decay and serious gum disease. Pearly whites are just that, it's what's underneath that counts. In fact, using whitening products more often than recommended can erode some of the enamel and cause teeth to appear translucent. If someone brushes with a hard toothbrush and brushes real hard and fast, it's possible to get some enamel erosion. The abrasives in the pastes can also contribute to this problem.
WHAT ISSUES MIGHT BE LINKED TO ORAL HEALTH?
Your oral health may affect, be affected by or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:
- Gum disease and dental procedures that cut your gums may allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. If you have a weak immune system or a damaged heart valve, this can cause infection in other parts of the body - such as an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis).
- Cardiovascular Disease
- o Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke may be linked to oral bacteria, possibly because of chronic inflammation from periodontitis - a severe form of gum disease.
- • Pregnancy and Birth
- o Gum disease has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
- • Diabetes
- o This illness reduces the body's resistance to infection - putting the gums at risk. In addition, people who have inadequate blood sugar control may develop more frequent and severe infections of the gums and the bone that holds teeth in place, and they may lose more teeth than do people who have good blood sugar control.
- • HIV/AIDS
- o Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.
- • Osteoporosis
- This disease - which causes bones to become weak and brittle - may be associated with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
- • Alzheimer's Disease
- Tooth loss before age 35 may be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.
Other conditions. More conditions that may be linked to oral health include Sjogren's syndrome - an immune system disorder - and eating disorders.
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.