The body is a system, and like any system, when one part is not working to its full potential it can affect together aspects of the system in a negative spiral towards total dysfunction. To understand how the mouth can affect the body, we need to understand what can go wrong in the first place.
It starts with bacteria that build up on teeth and make gums prone to infection. The immune system, like elite Special Forces, moves in to attack the infection. The gums become inflamed and produce chemicals to fight the bacteria. Over time, those chemicals eat away at the gums and bone structure that hold teeth in place. The result? Severe gum disease, or periodontitis.
Inflammation can also cause problems in the rest of the body.
Oral Health and Diabetes
The connection between oral health and diabetes may be the strongest connection between mouth and body we discuss in this article. Inflammation resulting from gum disease can weaken the body’s ability to control blood sugar. This is compounded in people with diabetes, because they lack insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into energy.
Studies on the relationship between periodontitis and diabetes, like the one published online in the Journal of Periodontology, are still in their early stages, but they suggest one more possible reason to keep up with a brushing and flossing routine.
Oral Health and Heart Disease
Though the reasons are not fully understood, it is clear gum disease and heart disease often go hand in hand. The two conditions share several contributing risk factors, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and excess weight. Up to 91% of patients with heart disease have periodontitis, compared to 66% of people with no heart disease.
According to the American Academy of Periodontology, “Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease.”
Oral Health and Pregnancy
Researchers are looking at the possible role that gum infection and inflammation plays in development. Periodontitis seems to interfere with a fetus’ development in the womb, and has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight. A new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found an association between a pregnant woman’s use of a non-alcoholic antimicrobial wash in and a decreased rate of premature delivery.
The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology found that gum disease could up the time it takes for a woman to become pregnant. When the findings were release, the Huffington Post reported that women with gum disease that participated in the study took an average of seven months to conceive, compared to five months for those without gum disease.
Oral Health and Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis and periodontitis have an important thing in common, bone loss. Researchers are testing whether inflammation triggered by periodontitis could weaken bone in elsewhere in the body.
Oral Health and Other Conditions
This being a relatively new area of study, some other mouth-body connections currently underinvestigation include:
- – Rheumatoid Arthritis. Targeting the inflammation cause by periodontal disease has occasionally been shown to reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
- – Lung Conditions. Periodontal disease may increase the amount of bacteria in the lungs, compounding pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- – Obesity. Two studies have linked increased progression of periodontitis in the presence of higher body fat.
- – Dementia. A study published in October 2007’s Journal of the American Dental Association found a relationship between people who lost more teeth before the age of 35 and an increased risk of dementia.
One thing is clear: the body and mouth are not separate. While most of these bacteria are harmless, good oral care plus the body’s immune system can keep the bad bacteria in check.