Many may incorrectly think that maintaining oral health is just important for keeping teeth looking white and breath smelling fresh, but actually there are several important links between dental health and the well-being of the rest of your body. Since your mouth is the entry point to the digestive and respiratory tracts, it is also the entry point for bacteria to get in your system. Good oral health care along with the body’s natural defenses is usually enough to keep bacteria at bay. Without proper oral health care, like daily brushing and flossing, bacteria can cause oral infections, tooth decay and gum disease.

Studies suggest oral bacteria and poor oral hygiene can contribute to several diseases and conditions, including:

  • Endocarditis: When bacteria spreads from your mouth or other parts of the body into the bloodstream and attach to certain parts of the heart, it can cause this infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers or valves.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Although admittedly the medical community has not reached a definitive consensus on the link between cardiovascular disease and oral health, there is research to suggest that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke may be correlated with the inflammation and infections caused by oral bacteria.
  • Pregnancy complications: Periodontitis, a gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bones that support the teeth, is associated with premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Pneumonia: Bacteria in the mouth doesn’t always stay there – it can be pulled into the lungs causing pneumonia and other respiratory complications.

Poor dental hygiene can also work the other way, as certain health conditions can negatively affect your oral health if dental care is neglected.

  • Diabetes: Diabetes can cause a range of complications, but its effect on reducing the body’s resistance to infection means that people suffering from diabetes are also at rise for gum disease, which has proven to be more prevalent among patients with diabetes. Regular periodontal care can help people with diabetes manage their dental symptoms.
  • HIV/AIDS: Oral complications like mucosal lesions are common in people with HIV/AIDS.
  • Osteoporosis: Your mouth is home to several periodontal bones which can be affected by osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease. Additionally, certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis are associated with damage to the bones of the jaw.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: There are long-term links between gum inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, and research suggests that gum disease can increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction.

Research shows that your oral health is closely associated with your general well-being. Be sure to keep your dentist up-to-date about the medications you take as well as changes in your overall health, especially if you have a chronic health condition. As always, practicing a diligent oral hygiene routine is the best way to manage your dental health. This includes brushing at least twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, using mouthwash to remove leftover food particles and eating a healthy diet limiting added sugars. Visiting your dental health provider on a regular basis is also key, as regular dental checkups and cleanings are an investment in your overall health.