How Oral Health Impacts Your Overall Health

General Medical Topics

Investing time and money in good oral health can pay dividends for your ongoing general health.

Putting off going to the dentist or slacking with brushing could do more damage than you may think. Medical experts discovered that dental health plays a significant role and impacts your overall health. Likewise, some medical conditions and medications can harm oral health. Find out if you’re at risk. 


Poor Dental Health Increases Risks to General Health

Poor oral health can have an impact on your general physical well-being. A range of medical conditions can be caused by or worsen if you have periodontal (gum) disease

Cardiovascular Disease

There are links between heart disease and gum disease. Bacteria that live in the mouth can travel through the bloodstream and attach to the lining of the heart’s chambers, narrowing blood vessels and increasing the risk of a heart attack. Even just a build-up of plaque on teeth can cause elevated protein levels, which are a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels.   


Two studies found gum disease correlates to a higher stroke rate due to the hardening of large arteries in the brain and severe artery blockages. People with gingivitis were 2.4 times more likely to have severely blocked brain arteries than someone with no gingivitis.   

Pregnancy Complications

Pregnant women should keep up good oral hygiene and continue to visit the dentist, as 60 - 75% of all pregnant women are susceptible to gingivitis due to pregnancy hormonal changes. Gingivitis causes bacteria and inflammatory markers to enter the bloodstream and can reach the placenta. Once this occurs, the mother is at greater risk of pregnancy complications and pre-term delivery. Research has found that when gum inflammation gets treated while pregnant, the risk of pre-term birth decreases by 50%.   


Bacteria in the mouth can also travel into the lungs and cause respiratory disease. People who are inactive and in bed recovering from an illness should keep the bacteria in their mouth at bay by brushing twice daily. Being bedridden is already placing them at increased risk of pneumonia, so keeping up with brushing can limit the bacteria that may enter the respiratory tract. 


Oral Health Impacted by Health Conditions

Many factors can cause gum disease. These include genetics, poor diet, lifestyle choices, and poor oral hygiene. Most people are aware that if they choose to smoke and not brush their teeth twice daily, they are increasing their risk of gum disease. It is interesting that smoking may reduce the likelihood of the gums bleeding when infected, and bleeding gums are often one of the signs of infected gums. However, many people don’t realise that some health conditions also increase the risk of developing gum disease. 

Dental and overall health is a two-way street; dental health can impact multiple medical conditions, while many of those can cause or worsen oral health concerns. 


Type 1 and 2 diabetes can predispose a patient to aggressive gum disease due to an increased amount of glucose in saliva. The glucose causes bacterial growth and plaque build-up. A relatively small amount of plaque may have an exaggerated inflammatory response


Osteoporosis can lead to bone loss in the jaw bones which can cause mobile teeth and/or tooth loss as well and contribute to more aggressive gum disease. This is particularly important when the orthodontist is moving teeth as the decreased bone density may result in significant loss of bone and gum tissue loss during treatment.


Radiation and chemotherapy treatments used to treat some cancers can cause a change to the lining of the mouth and salivary glands. These changes can cause an increase in bacteria levels, tooth decay, and infections. 


A person diagnosed with HIV/AIDS is more at risk of oral health problems because the body is more likely to suffer from infections. Patients who have orthodontics whilst HIV positive need to ensure that their gum health is optimal during treatment to minimise the chances of gum loss due to the tissue susceptibility to gum infection.


Impact of Some Medications on Dental Health

Our mouth needs saliva to stay healthy. The saliva washes food particles away and protects teeth by killing oral bacteria. However, some medications can cause a reduction in the production of saliva. Some drugs that can interfere with saliva production include antidepressants, anti-hypertensive drugs, diuretics, anti-histamines, opiates, chemotherapeutic agents, and muscle relaxants. 

If you’re suffering from a dry mouth caused by medications, contact your GP and feel free to discuss the ways to minimise these effects during orthodontic treatment with the orthodontist.  

Protecting your Oral Health

With much more than your teeth and gums at risk, it’s important to look after your oral health. If you have braces or Invisalign, you should be even more vigilant about brushing and flossing your teeth twice daily.  If you have had gum problems in the past, it is important to consider more regular check-ups (2-3 monthly) with your dentist or periodontist during orthodontics. Please discuss your individual requirements with your orthodontist.

Brush and Floss 

Looking after your dental and oral health is as easy as brushing and flossing morning and night, every day. A few minutes can go a long way. Braces provide many nooks and crannies for bacteria and plaque to thrive compared to teeth without braces. So if you have braces, it’s an even better return on time because you won’t need to worry about stains on your teeth when getting them removed. 

Visit Your Dentist 

If you visit the dentist every 6 months, any concerns such as cavities, can be treated before they cause further problems. Many people assume they will be aware of a dental problem because of a toothache or bleeding gums, but this is not always the case. 

You may not be able to see or feel an issue that a dentist can pick up. X-rays every 2 years can check for any issues under the gum line, such as an abscess or impacted tooth. Moreover, professional cleaning may be the only way to remove a build-up of tartar.

See Your GP

If you suffer from any health condition that could cause oral health problems or vice versa, see your GP for advice and monitoring. 

If you take medications that impact your saliva levels or mouth concerns, speak to your GP. Some people who suffer from dry mouth can take medication to reduce the severity and symptoms. 

Eat a Healthy Diet

Keeping sugary foods and drinks to a minimum means the bacteria have less opportunity to thrive. Starchy foods can also increase the level of bacteria. Try to brush soon after eating these foods. 

If you can’t brush soon after, carrying a small mouthwash can benefit your teeth. Alternatively, chewing sugarless gum can help keep up the saliva levels in your mouth, but be careful not to rely on it.  

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