How Oral Health Impacts Heart and General Health

Back view of male dentist pointing at tooth X-ray image on screen during a dental appointment with a patient in the chair looking on.

June is National Oral Health Month. It’s important to take good care of your teeth and gums — not only to help your mouth stay in good shape, but also to help the rest of your body stay healthy, too. Here’s what you need to know about how your oral health affects your overall health.

What Is Oral Health?

Oral health refers to the health of your mouth, teeth, and other orofacial structures (areas around your face and jaw bone and joint). These areas allow you to eat, breathe, and speak — functions that are important for wellbeing and self-confidence as you socialize, work, and move through life. 

Oral diseases affect around 3.5 billion people around the world, especially those who come from a lower socioeconomic background. Common oral diseases and conditions include: 

  • Dental caries (cavities)
  • Periodontal (gum) disease
  • Tooth loss
  • Oral cancer
  • Oro-dental trauma
  • Birth defects (such as cleft lip and palate)

In the United States, 90% of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 have tooth decay. For Americans between 45 and 64 years of age, that percentage increases to 50%. And one in four adults do not have dental insurance, making it difficult for them to access the oral care they need.

The Link Between Oral Health and Overall Health

You might be surprised to learn that your oral health and your overall health have a strong connection. Dentists can get a good sense of the state of your overall health just by looking in your mouth! Oral health is one of 10 leading health indicators — right up there with factors like nutrition and your access to healthcare. 

There’s a connection between oral health and chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. For example, if you have diabetes that isn’t well-controlled, you are at a higher risk for developing severe periodontal disease. 

Poor oral health can even affect pregnancy, potentially leading to issues like gestational diabetes, low birth weight, or miscarriage as scientists speculate that oral bacteria can travel into the bloodstream and harm the baby. 

Oral Health and Heart Health

Researchers have discovered an even more specific link between oral health and heart health. Many studies have indicated higher rates of heart attacks, coronary artery disease, clogged arteries, endocarditis, and strokes in people with gum disease or tooth loss. This could be because of bacteria, an immune response, or third factors like smoking or lack of healthcare access. 

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Are You At Risk?

Learn the signs of gum disease and other oral health issues so you can do a self-check to see if your hygiene routine needs a tune-up. Risk factors for gum disease include:

  • Age (being 65+)
  • Smoking/tobacco use
  • Genetics
  • Stress
  • Medications (oral contraceptives, antidepressants, and certain heart medicines)
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Other systemic diseases (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Poor nutrition or obesity

Symptoms of periodontal, or gum, disease in adults include:

  • Swollen or puffy gums
  • Bright red, dark red, or dark purple gums
  • Gums that feel tender when touched
  • Gums that bleed easily
  • A toothbrush that looks pink after brushing 
  • Spitting out blood when brushing or flossing
  • Bad breath
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Loose teeth or loss of teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • New spaces that develop between your teeth
  • Gums that pull away from your teeth
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite

While this is a common condition, it can also be severe, and it’s something to take seriously — not only for the sake of your mouth, but also to help improve your overall health.

Tips to Improve Your Oral Health

For optimal oral health, you should brush and floss your teeth every day, and visit your dentist for routine preventive cleanings twice a year. Use fluoride toothpaste to protect your teeth from decay, and floss in between each tooth. Finally, don’t smoke, and eat a balanced diet that’s light on sugary treats such as soda. These oral health tips will help your teeth and gums stay healthy so the rest of your body can stay healthy, too.

Want more? Check out our blog When Snoring Means A Health Problem

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