The Shocking Link between Oral Health and Overall Body Health

By  | 

Until now, you may have thought that the cleanliness of your mouth contributes only to the health of your teeth and the prettiness of your smile, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. Oral health greatly influences your overall health and that shouldn’t really come as a surprise if we stop to think, and realize that the mouth is actually a portal through which many substances from the environment enter our body; besides food and fluids, there are also substances that we breathe in or that simply get into our mouth when we keep it open while talking or yawning. Your mouth is also equipped with mechanisms that allow it to detect toxins and pathogens and protect you from them. However, with lack of oral hygiene, the mouth usually is affected with pathogens and it can become a source of disease which easily spreads throughout your body. Your oral health, according to the Mayo Clinic, can also warn you about the problems in your general health, so the link goes both ways. When examining your mouth and face, doctors can detect indicators of disease, abuse, bad habits or addictions, developmental disorders, etc.

Oral Heath and Problems during Pregnancy

Taking care of oral hygiene during pregnancy is very important because lack of hygiene can lead to gum disease or inflammation which can cause prostaglandin (a chemical compound) to pile up and trigger an early delivery. A study conducted in 2007 that included 3,567 Turkish women showed that gum disease can lead to premature birth and low birth weight. On the other hand, it is not only pure dental hygiene that affects pregnancy – it happens vice versa as well. Namely, according to Marsha Rubin from special-care dentistry in New York, the changes in hormones which happen during pregnancy usually lead to gum infection regardless of the level of dental hygiene.

Diabetes Linked with Oral Health

Persons with diabetes are more prone to be affected with gum disease, and the other way around – people with high levels of periodontal disease are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This was proved in a research conducted in 2008 at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health which included 9,296 people not suffering from diabetes at the time. Researchers have discovered that when infections in the mouth become bad and don’t get treated, they cause inflammations in the rest of the body which makes the body less able to process sugar as it should. One of the researchers, Dr. Ryan Demmer explains that there are many kinds of inflammatory molecules, and some probably attach to insulin receptors and don’t let the cells use insulin which leads to glucose entering the cells and damaging them.

HIV Infection and Osteoporosis Linked with Oral Health


These diseases have oral manifestations and the early symptoms are visible exactly there – in the mouth. The deterioration of oral health can also serve as a predictor of the progression of infectious diseases such as these. A routine oral check up or an MRI of teeth can show early indications of the changes osteoporosis is making in the skeleton.

When a person is infected by HIV, many oral lesions appear, and their severity indicates the stage of the disease a person is in. This has been confirmed by various studies (Royce et al. 1991, Montaner et al. 1992, etc).  HIV brings a significant risk for oral health deterioration because the immune system doesn’t have enough strength to beat the infection. According to the NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research), the problems that most commonly occur when a person is infected with HIV include oral warts, fever blisters, hairy leukoplakia, oral candidiasis, cavities, gum disease (periodontitis and gingivitis), etc. Moreover, bacterial infections that start in the mouth, if not treated, can enter the bloodstream and damage the heart and other organs, which is particularly dangerous for persons with HIV because their immune system is unable to defend the body from such harm.

When it comes to osteoporosis, what usually happens to the diseased persons is the loss of bone mineral and structural changes, and research conducted by Jeffcoat in 1998 (Osteoporosis: a possible modifying factor in oral bone loss) shows that osteoporosis can potentially lead to oral bone loss. The signs that osteoporosis has started affecting the oral health are usually seen in injured gums that are not healing, swelling or infections of gums, teeth loss, or exposed bone.

Heart Disease and the Link with Oral Health

A study conducted in 2005 funded by the National Institute of Health included 1,056 people who have not had heart attacks or strokes. These people were examined based on the levels of periodontal bacteria, and the study showed that there is a strong link between gum disease and heart disease. Dr. Moise Desvarieux, the lead author of the study concluded that ‘bad’ bacteria from the infected mouth may enter the blood vessels and linger there leading to blockages which can lead to heart attacks. Another study from 2007 that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that with proper treatment of gum disease the risk for atherosclerosis decreases significantly within a period of six months.

Gum Disease and Pneumonia

Periodontal infection increases the risk of developing pneumonia by 3.9 times – a claim that was confirmed with a study conducted in 2008 which included elderly people. The lead researcher explained that there are plenty bacteria in the mouth even if it is clean, but when there is gum disease, there are even more bacteria and they can get inhaled into the lungs causing pneumonia or a chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reviewed several studies, all of which indicate that improving oral health could decrease the level and severity of the infection of the respiratory system.