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Your mouth, your health

Taking good care of your teeth and gums can reduce health risks

The science is clear: the mouth and the body are biologically linked. Taking good care of your teeth and gums can potentially help you avoid other chronic diseases and even prolong your life.

How does the health of your mouth affect the health of your body? When bacteria are allowed to build up on teeth, it makes the gums prone to infection. If the infection is not controlled, the gums become inflamed. This is called gingivitis. Over time, this inflammation can destroy the gums and the bony structure of the mouth, resulting in severe gum disease, called periodontitis. This type of inflammation also contributes to many chronic systemic diseases.

The relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes is extremely strong and periodontitis is considered a primary consequence of diabetes. Not only can the oral infection get into the bloodstream, but altered inflammation impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, heal tissues, and protect against infection.

There is also a strong relationship between gum disease and heart disease. According to WebMD, up to 91 percent of patients with heart disease have periodontal disease, compared with 66 percent of people with no heart disease. A recent literature analysis also showed that patients with periodontitis had up to twice the increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared with orally healthy individuals. Thus, the inflammation in the mouth enables oral bacteria to get into the bloodstream, causing inflammation in the blood vessels, which in turn increases the risk for a heart attack or stroke. The two conditions have several risk factors in common: smoking, unhealthy diet, and excess weight.

Babies born at a low birth weight or preterm are a consequence of poor oral health in expectant women. The oral infection and gum disease communicate with the mother’s bloodstream and appear to interfere with fetal development in the womb.

There are simple solutions to avoid increasing your risk for these diseases. In addition to daily brushing and flossing of the teeth, not smoking is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the health of your entire body, including the mouth.  

Guard against oral disease
 Commit to brushing at least twice a day.

 At least once a day, floss between teeth where a toothbrush may not be able to reach.

 Use toothpaste and mouth rinses with fluoride. Fluoride strengthens teeth in children and helps prevent decay in adult teeth.

 Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limit sugary snacks.

 Check your mouth often for swollen gums, mouth sores, and chipped or decaying teeth.

 Visit your dentist regularly.

-Dr. Jeffrey L. Ebersole is director of the Center for Oral Health Research at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Ebersole for the June 2015 issue

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