Smiling woman listening to dental doctor. Female dentist is discussing with patient. They are in clinic.

The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health

Sometimes, the connection between a health problem and how your body responds to it is pretty straightforward. If you find it’s getting difficult to lift heavy bags of groceries from your car, your body is probably trying to tell you to add strength training to your workout routine and build up your muscles. If you’re breathing hard after climbing just a few flights of stairs, you might need to focus on fitting in more cardio exercises. But if your gums feel sensitive when you’re flossing your teeth – and you see a little bit of blood on your dental floss – you might be surprised to know it could spell trouble for other parts of your body, like your heart health or your blood sugar level. 

 An increasing amount of medical research shows a connection between how healthy your teeth, gums and other parts of your mouth are, and your body’s overall health. Chronic inflammation in your mouth that leads to serious gum disease like periodontitis can be a warning of other systemic health issues, according to the American Dental Association. Poor oral health has been linked to heart disease, a higher risk of stroke and arterial blockages, as well as diabetes. 

How do you know if you might have gum disease? Here are some signs to look for: 

  • Gums that are tender or hurt when you brush your teeth 
  • Gums that bleed during flossing or brushing 
  • Bad breath 
  • Gums that look like they are pulling away from your teeth 

If you notice any of these symptoms, talk first to your dentist. Many dentists also have expanded their exams beyond your teeth and gums, doing oral cancer screenings and checking your entire mouth during your regular checkups. And if you do have gum disease, mention it to your regular health care provider, too. Your physician will want to know so they can keep an eye on any other conditions that might be associated with that. 

Oral health is also something that’s tracked by health insurance companies as an indicator of how much additional care you might need.  Based on an overview of its medical claims, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s Health of America initiative noted that people with serious conditions like gum disease were 25% more likely to suffer from heart disease, and twice as likely to need an ambulance trip or hospital stay. The report estimated poor oral health could cut a person’s life expectancy short by 1.7 years. 

How to Maintain Good Oral Health 

 One bad checkup at the dentist or a few days when flossing hurts your gums doesn’t mean you’re headed down the road to chronic inflammation and disease. There are a few simple preventive steps you can take every day to help keep your mouth healthy. Here are some things recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 

  • Brush your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, and floss once each day to remove plaque from between your teeth. 
  • Limit your alcohol intake. 
  • If you smoke, quit. 
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year. 
  • If you have chronic dry mouth from medication or another issue, make sure to drink water frequently or chew sugarless gum. 

 With just a few minutes of attention each day, you can keep your smile and mouth healthy. This is something your whole body will appreciate. 

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Photo credit: Getty 

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