Your oral health is the gateway to your overall health.
Every inflammatory response in the oral cavity just does not stay in the mouth. Rather, its effects are spread throughout the body, especially through the blood vessels to others areas. Conversely, a healthy oral environment is associated with positive health effects within the entire body.
In this issue, we will discuss four organs usually affected by diseases in the oral cavity.
You might never think to connect your oral health to your respiratory health. Bear in mind, however, that a diseased or improperly cleaned mouth harbors unhealthy bacteria. When you inhale, you bring in air with the presence of this bacteria, sending tiny droplets of bacteria into your lungs.
While most people’s immune systems may have the strength to protect the lungs against invading bacteria, people who struggle with immune disorders (or who take medications that suppress immune function) may get lung infections. People with existing respiratory issues, such as asthma, may find their symptoms getting worse.
Periodontal disease begins with a bacterial infection. Researchers have concluded that periodontal disease can worsen conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and may actually play a role in the contraction of pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema.
The same oral bacteria that can invade your lungs could also invade your heart, with the main difference being the mode of travel. Your teeth, gums, and jaw all share a network of blood vessels connected to your larger blood circulatory system. Oral bacteria can catch a ride through the bloodstream until they end up in the heart.
Once the bacteria has entered the heart, it can trigger inflammation of the heart’s external lining, a condition known as endocarditis, while also damaging the heart valves. Even so, if you have a known heart condition, you may have an elevated risk that makes preventive care especially valuable.
Your Blood Vessels
As oral bacteria makes its way from the gums or teeth to the heart, it can also have some negative effects on your blood vessels. Research suggests that the inflammation along the inner lining of the blood vessels can encourage cholesterol depots to build up along blood vessel walls, a condition known as atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis can cause blockages in blood flow, potentially raising stroke risk. A study of 265 stroke patients found that patients with gum disease experienced certain types of stroke two to three times more common than those who didn’t have gum disease.
Even among individuals who haven’t suffered a stroke, researchers have seen links between gingivitis and arterial plaque buildup. You can therefore minimize your risk for hardening of the arteries simply by avoiding or treating any gum inflammation soonest.
Untreated dental problems can have an effect on brain health. Medical researchers have noted apparent links between periodontal disease with cognitive problems such as impaired mathematical skills and memory. Fortunately, your dentist can treat periodontal disease.
Very rarely, an abscess in the upper jaw may eventually reach the brain, producing symptoms such as headaches, chills, fever, vision problems, nausea, vomiting, and seizure. Although most people will never experience this issue, you should always get a dental infection or abscess treated early to eliminate any such risks.
Once you see the links between dental or oral diseases and specific organ systems, you’ll understand the importance of keeping up your dental appointments, practicing proper home dental hygiene, and getting any dental problems treated promptly. Your overall health will be the beneficiary.
Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau and Freeport. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fastbraces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected].