Oral upkeep and your health

October 8, 2019

Ever wonder why when you go to the dentist’s office, the intake forms include a complete health history? They don’t just want to know about your gums and teeth, they want to know about your whole body!

That’s because our oral and bodily health are linked, and both require a certain level of visibility and upkeep. Sure, it’s important to flash that signature smile for success, but dental diligence goes beyond looks.

“Caring for teeth and gums is not just a good idea for the cosmetic effect—this can be beneficial for whole-body health as well,” says David Harrison, MD, medical director and VP of clinical quality for Teladoc Health.

Here’s a look at why you should be invested in taking care of your teeth and gums, and what you might start to notice if you aren’t.

Mind your mouth

About 100 million people in the U.S. skip seeing the dentist each year,1 making them more likely to develop mouth disease and other oral problems. Oral diseases ranging from cavities to oral cancers cause pain and disability for millions of Americans.2 Tooth pain, sores, bleeding, and inflammation are usually signs of a health or dental concern. Bacteria from the mouth can spread throughout the body, leading to larger-scale problems.

So prevention is key: Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to help prevent decay, or, if you can manage it, after every time you eat. Floss between the teeth and use a mouth rinse before bed. Limit foods with extra sugars, and get dental checkups at least twice a year. Keeping the bacteria in the mouth under control is an investment in maintaining overall health.

Learn about the links

Did you know that the mouth is often described as “the window to general health?”4 Research has suggested links between oral health—and especially periodontal, or gum, disease—and several chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.2 It’s also linked to obesity, which increases your risk of other major health issues.3 Alzheimer’s disease, lung disease, and pregnancy-related complications have also been studied for their relationship to oral health.3,4 Good oral hygiene can help protect you against gum disease, possibly lowering your risk of other health problems, says Dr. Harrison.

“There is mounting evidence that oral health—and gum health in particular—can have an important impact on health of many parts of the body. Studies suggest that chronic gum disease may modestly increase the risk of coronary and cerebrovascular disease,” Dr. Harrison says. “There also may be an association between periodontal disease in pregnant women and preterm birth. It may be that inflammation in the mouth impacts inflammation in the whole body, and perhaps oral bacteria or their toxins play a role as well,” he adds.

So what does all this amount to? Well, larger studies are still needed to find out if poor oral health and these various diseases are simply associated—or if there is truly a causal relationship. This is a big unknown. But we do know that keeping up with oral care is an important part of overall health, and that having a regular dental routine is quite beneficial.

So brush up on those oral health basics (brush, floss, mouthwash, checkups), and reach out to Teladoc physicians anytime—day or night—if you have a health concern that you think could be related to certain mouth symptoms. We’re always here to help you take a holistic look at your health.

References

1https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-health
2https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/leading-health-indicators/2020-lhi-topics/Oral-Health
3https://dentistry.uic.edu/patients/oral-health-well-being
4https://www.agd.org/docs/default-source/self-instruction-(gendent)/gendent_nd17_aafp_kane.pdf

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