Importance of Dentists in Patients’ Health

There is a strong, proven relationship between your oral health and your overall health. Your mouth is a window into assessing the health of the rest of your body. Many conditions have symptoms that are apparent when looking at the teeth and gums, including HIV and diabetes. Poor oral health has also been linked to inflammation, infection, and heart problems.

Because patients are ideally getting an oral checkup twice a year, their dentist may be the first health professional to identify potentially serious conditions. Here are a few mouth-body connections that prove the importance of maintaining good oral health.

Oral Signs of HIV. Because HIV weakens the body’s ability to fight off infection, those suffering from this condition are more likely to have infections or other problems in the mouth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), those with HIV or AIDS can exhibit oral symptoms, such as dry mouth, red band gingivitis, ulcerative periodontitis, outbreaks of herpes simplex virus or canker sores, and mouth ulcers.

Diabetes and Oral Health. Over 29 million people in the U.S. are living with diabetes, and according to the ADA, 20% of all cases of total tooth loss are linked to diabetes. Gum disease (gingivitis and periodontal disease) is caused by excessive bacteria in the mouth causing inflammation and infection. Any infection in the body causes blood sugar levels to rise, making it harder to keep diabetes under control.

In turn, poor blood sugar control has been shown to contribute to gingivitis and periodontal disease, which eventually lead to tooth and bone loss. Because of this cyclical chain reaction, those who are at risk or have already been diagnosed with diabetes need to be vigilant about their oral health.

Healthy Mouth, Healthy Heart. Inflammation and infection of the gums due to bacteria can cause even more health issues. It has been shown that bacteria around the gumline can get into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and infection in the cardiovascular system. Gum disease has been causally linked to blood clots and blocked arteries, which are the cause of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

In addition, if the bacteria from the mouth find its way to the inner linings of the heart and valves it can create growth pockets of bacteria. These pockets can cause infection of the inner linings of the heart, called endocarditis, which is often fatal.

A Connection to Lungs. Bacteria in the mouth can also make its way to the lungs and worsen conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. In addition to worsening existing lung problems, excessive bacteria can also cause them. When there’s a large amount of bacteria in the lungs, it increases the chances of developing a bacterial lung infection.

These are just a few of the long list of systemic conditions that can be observed in the mouth or are affected by oral health. The best way to watch for potential issues is to visit your dentist at least twice a year. Also, preventative care is always the way to go when trying to stay healthy. Make sure to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes twice a day and use an interdental cleaner, such as floss or a water pick, once a day.