How often do you hear people talk about how they don’t want to get their teeth cleaned because the hygienist is going to give them a hard time about not flossing. Or maybe you even are that person. If you are, don’t take it personally, we get after folks not because we’re mean (at least not on most days), but because there is so much going on in the mouth, and so many ways in which it can affect the entire body.
For starters, obviously the more we brush and floss the more clean and fresh our mouths and breath will be. That's a win for everyone, right? But what other effects does oral hygiene have on our bodies as a whole? New science is finding more and more connections.
Most of the connections between systemic (the entire body) diseases and the mouth stem from Periodontal Disease. To learn more about Periodontal Disease check out our article on it here. Periodontal Disease is closely linked to Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease, Diabetes, Preterm Births and may even have a link to Alzheimer's.
Cardiovascular Disease- There are 22 different types of Cardiovascular Disease affecting 83.6 million Americans. The bad bacteria from the mouth involved with Periodontal Disease can travel from the mouth to the bloodstream and cause systemic inflammation which can lead to damage of blood vessel walls, which is the first step towards heart attack and stroke.
Diabetes- Diabetes and Periodontal Disease often go hand in hand and are frequently seen together. Diabetes can cause multiple complications in the mouth including dry mouth, burning sensation in the mouth, delayed wound healing and more. Periodontal Disease can also influence Diabetes as well. In a similar fashion as Cardiovascular Disease, the bacteria from the mouth enter the bloodstream and cause systemic inflammation. This process kicks off a cascade of events ultimately leading to an increase in blood glucose levels.
Preterm Births- One of the bad “bugs” in Periodontal Disease is a bacteria named Fusobacterium Nucleatum. This bacteria can leave the mother’s mouth, enter the bloodstream and cross the placental barrier spreading infection to the fetus, fetal membranes and amniotic fluid, and can stimulate early labor.
Alzheimer’s Disease- Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of Dementia in older people. A bacteria type called Spirochetes which is one of the bacteria in Periodontal Disease is found in higher numbers in patients with Alzheimer's. During Alzheimer's they form curly, tangle like plaques in the brain. These plaques increase as the disease progresses. There is no definitive link stating that these bacteria are coming from the mouth, but it is a possible source of infection and more research needs to be done to see if there is a firm link between the two.
Other systemic diseases do not arise from the mouth, but do play a significant role there. One such ailment is Sleep Apnea. About 22 million Americans suffer from Sleep Apnea which is associated with a wide range of diseases, such as Diabetes, Asthma, High Blood Pressure, Weight Gain and others. Sleep Apnea also has many manifestations in the mouth. It can cause chipped or broken teeth from grinding at night, dry mouth, enlarged uvula (the hanging ball thing in the back of your throat) and more. The amazing thing is that Sleep Apnea often can be treated using a simple dental night guard that helps keep the airway open at night.
As research continues, and as our knowledge of the mouth expands science will continue to find more and more links between what is going on in the mouth and how that affects the entire body. This is a discipline that is receiving a lot of attention right now and don’t be surprised that in the future your dentist will play a much larger role in your everyday health. So next time the hygienist asks about flossing, know that there is a lot more to your overall health that they are concerned with.