Thursday May 31,
Dear Dr. Mady: : I am trying to teach my children that what is in there mouth affects what is in their bodies. They don't understand that a healthy mouth helps keep you healthy. I have heard so much over the past couple of years about diseases showing up in the mouth and problems in the mouth causing or helping diseases progress in our bodies. I would appreciate it if you could confirm what I am saying, because if my kids see it in the paper, they may believe me.—Laura in Belle River, On.
Dear Laura: What you are saying is so true. However, when we are young and healthy like I am assuming your children are, we often don’t realize that the mouth is a front door to our bodies and overall health. Oral health is often overlooked especially in the media. Articles and columns focus on other health issues and medical problems, but they often do not mention our mouths. I have said it before and will say it again. The mouth is where nutrition and digestion begins for our entire body and it is the gateway to our body’s health.
The condition of one’s oral cavity is like the front cover of a novel that offers clues about what may be lurking in the pages of that particular publication. There is a greater correlation between oral and overall health than most individuals recognize. The signs associated with a great number of systemic diseases will show up in your mouth before anywhere else. On the other hand, infections, bacteria and other conditions that begin in the mouth can lead to other illnesses in the body.
Our mouths contain tens of bacteria and many of them do not normally exist in our bodies. Many of these bacteria can be kept under control with good oral hygiene and home care including brushing, flossing, tongue scraping and frequently changing your toothbrush. If these practices are not performed regularly and diligently, the harmful bacteria can get control and do damage. By this I mean cause cavities and destructive gum or periodontal disease that may lead to tooth loss. In conditions of periodontal disease, gums will bleed and this can allow bacteria in the mouth that don’t exist in the rest of the body to enter the blood stream and travel to other parts of the body.
When periodontal conditions are healthy, bacteria usually do not enter the blood highway, but even an invasive dental procedure can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream in these patients. Saliva itself acts like a defense mechanism in many cases and its enzymes kill much of the unwanted bacteria. That is why saliva is a key ingredient in defense against bacteria and even viruses. A reduction in the flow of saliva from medications, diseases or radiation type treatments leads to more oral bacteria and associated problems including entrance into the bloodstream.
There is much research today that possibly proves that these bacteria can cause inflammation and health problems in the rest of your body as they do in the mouth. More and more conditions and diseases are being linked to oral health all the time. Some of the most common ones that we hear about today are cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, HIV and AIDS, and pregnancy and birth difficulties.
The types of cardiovascular disease most commonly associated with bacteria in the mouth and periodontal disease are heart disease, artery blockage, bacterial endocarditis and stroke. As far as osteoporosis goes, your dentist may be able to spot bone loss on dental x-rays where periodontal disease is not even present. In the case of diabetes, your chances of oral infections are increased along with the risk of drier mouth, more gum disease, cavities and tooth loss. So poor oral health and care can help diabetes get out of control and thus a diabetic with poor oral health could have blood sugar increases and require more insulin to correct it. People with HIV and AIDS commonly notice the first signs of the disease in their mouth with bad gum disease and persistent white lesions in all areas of their mouths. With child birth, gum disease has been linked to premature birth, possibly by disease-causing bacteria traveling from the mouth to the placenta or into the amniotic fluid. The best treatment is to maintain excellent oral health before conception and then to continue it throughout pregnancy.
There are many other conditions that show up in the mouth before you know something is wrong. These include but are not limited to eating disorders (breakdown of enamel from stomach acids in vomit), cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, and Sjogren’s syndrome (very dry mouth).
If bad breath and appearance were the only reasons that you or your kids took good care of their teeth and mouths in the past, the link between your oral health and overall health should become an even better reason for their future. Remember that your mouth is the front door to your entire body. Smile and live a longer and healthier life.
Questions for Dr. Mady can be e-mailed to email@example.com or visit his website for past articles at www.drmady.com or at the Essex County Dental Society’s website, www.ecds.on.ca under “ask the dentist”.
This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The
Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS
member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of
each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask
The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A