Oral Health: A Gauge of Overall Health

Oral health habits may affect more than your smile. More and more studies are indicating relationships between dental health and a person’s overall health, including links to some very serious diseases.

The study of this connection is not new; we are becoming more and more aware of the link between dental health and overall physical health. One recent study suggests a relationship between oral health and dementia.

Mental Health

According to a University of California study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, oral health habits may contribute to the development of dementia in later life. The study focused on a California retirement community, measuring their oral health habits between 1992 and 2010. The study found that, of the 5,468 adults with an average age of 81 and no previous dementia diagnoses, those who brushed their teeth less than once per day were up to 65 percent more likely to develop dementia (versus those who brushed three times daily).

Another interesting result from the study showed that men with an impaired ability to chew and did not wear dentures had a 91 percent greater risk to develop dementia, with women reporting a similar but smaller risk.

Cardiovascular Health

You may have heard that flossing is recommended to maintain a healthy heart, but have you ever wondered why?

While doctors are careful to avoid citing a cause-and-effect relationship, numerous studies have indicated a link between periodontal (gum) disease and cardiovascular disease. One proposed theory holds that infection and inflammation that begins in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body, with possible links to heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and strokes.

Another theory suggests that the bacteria found in unhealthy gums enters the bloodstream and attaches to the inner lining of the heart or valves. These bacteria can lead to endocarditis, an inflammation or infection of those surfaces.

Experts are quick to state that healthy oral habits may not prevent these cardiovascular diseases from forming, since no direct correlation has been proven. They often follow that by stating that a proper oral health regimen is easy enough to follow, and brings a host of proven benefits.


That same gum disease inflammation that has been blamed for cardiovascular health issues has also been linked to diabetes. The inflammation, which starts in the mouth, has been shown to weaken the whole body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.

In turn, elevated blood sugar makes for a perfect environment for infections to grow, feeding a cycle between gum disease and diabetes. Fortunately, good oral health and disease prevention can interrupt that cycle.

Other Health Concerns

Ongoing research is testing the link between poor oral health and other conditions:

· Pregnancy – Lots of research suggests there is a relationship between a mother’s gum disease and premature birth and low birth weight.

· Osteoporosis – Researchers are testing a theory that periodontitis-induced inflammation might weaken bone in other parts of the body.

· Arthritis – There is some indication that treating periodontal disease reduces pain from rheumatoid arthritis.

· Obesity – Recent studies have shown that gum disease progresses more quickly in the presence of higher body fat.

Your Mouth = Your Body

Scientists are careful when drawing conclusions, but the volume of studies suggest that oral health has a real and significant impact on the rest of the body.

The American Dental Association’s dental health website, www.MouthHealthy.org, has information on nutrition, healthy habits, myths and more. If you have questions, visit the ADA site, or call Fuqua Advanced Dental at (817) 410-8765.

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