You may have heard of the mind-body connection, but what about the mouth-body connection? To many people, a dental visit is about getting their teeth cleaned or getting a filling. However, a dental visit is not just about teeth. It is also about your overall health. What goes on in your mouth can affect the rest of your body. What goes on in your body also can have an effect on your mouth.
Many diseases and conditions can affect your oral health. For example, you may get more infections in the mouth if your immune system is weak. If you have certain medical conditions, you may need specialized oral and dental care. Medicines for other conditions also can affect the health of your mouth. Many drugs cause dry mouth (xerostomia). This can increase your risk of tooth decay.
While examining your mouth, your dentist might see a sign or symptom of an illness or disease. Perhaps this will be something you don’t even know you have.
Your oral health also can affect other medical conditions. For example, a mouth infection can disrupt blood-sugar levels and make diabetes harder to control.
Periodontal (gum) disease is a long-term mouth infection. Studies suggest that people with diabetes do not control their blood sugar as well if they also have gum disease. But research has not yet shown whether treating gum disease can reduce long-term blood sugar levels.
Other studies are exploring whether gum disease may increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) stroke and premature births. The studies have had mixed results. In particular, it’s unclear whether treatment of gum disease can improve overall health. More research is needed.
About 47% of U.S. adults over age 30 have some form of periodontal disease. This includes gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease. Periodontal disease risk increases with age. About 70% of adults who are 65 and older have periodontal disease. Because gum disease is so common, its treatment and management can have important effects on overall public health.
There’s still not enough proof to say whether preventing or treating gum disease will help the whole body stay healthy. We do know that regular cleanings and treatment of gum disease will maintain your oral health and preserve your teeth.
You may benefit your overall health as well. Stay tuned as we learn more from future research.