Many people think that because you go to a doctor for your body and a dentist for your mouth, they think that the two are somehow separate. However, the truth is that your oral health and overall health have a close link. If you don’t maintain good oral health through oral hygiene and regular dental checkups, you’re likely to suffer a decline in your overall health.
Understanding the mechanisms that allow oral health to damage your overall health can help you understand the importance of making your regular checkups at our Rockland County dental office.
Your Mouth Is the Gateway
There is one entrance for pretty much everything in your body: your mouth. While that’s an efficient design, it’s bad if your mouth is unhealthy.
Breathing through your mouth can transport oral bacteria from gum disease into your throat and lungs, where they can contribute to throat infections, esophageal cancer, and even pneumonia. Even when breathing through your nose, air passes through your throat and can pick up oral bacteria.
Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause pneumonia. Although all mouths contain bacteria, you will never be able to fully eliminate all bacteria. The key to preventing pneumonia is eliminating as much bacteria from your mouth as possible by taking good care of your oral health. Reducing bacteria in the mouth can reduce the risk of aspirating the type of bacteria that causes pneumonia.
When you eat or drink, oral bacteria can travel with food into your stomach. It doesn’t always survive, but when it does, it can cause infections in your digestive tract or nearby tissues. Oral bacterial infections have links to colorectal cancer.
Due to the blood vessels in your gums, bacteria from your mouth can directly enter your bloodstream. It travels throughout your body and can set up colonies everywhere, including your heart and the arteries around your heart. They can contribute to infection-related heart failure, and arterial plaque often contains oral bacteria.
You have to remember that gum disease is a chronic infection. Your body responds to this infection, which can last years, even decades, by ramping up its immune response, including the inflammatory response throughout the entire body, not just the mouth.
Research has linked systemic inflammation to many potential health conditions, including cancer, metabolic disorders like type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
This constantly elevated immune response can also drain your body’s resources, making you more likely to experience chronic fatigue.
The Critical Roles of Your Jaw
Bacteria aren’t the only cause of health problems related to your mouth. Temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) can have a widespread impact on the health and function of your body. TMJ can be caused by many things, including poor alignment of your teeth, which puts the jaw joint out of balance. With the jaw joint out of balance, you will likely experience jaw pain, but the symptoms may also include headache, sore neck, back pain, and tingling or numbness in your fingers. TMJ has also been linked to chronic pain conditions like migraine, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In addition, your jaw holds your airway open so you can breathe properly both while awake and sleeping. If your jaw isn’t in a healthy position, you can develop sleep apnea, a condition in which your breathing stops intermittently while you sleep. Sleep apnea has been linked to heart problems, dementia, diabetes, obesity, and several types of cancer.
Chewing, Nutrition, and Dementia
It turns out that chewing is important for your brain. We don’t know why, but there have been several studies that link chewing ability to your risk of developing dementia. Part of the cause is likely that chewing is related to teeth, and the most common cause of tooth loss is gum disease, which might be linked to dementia through systemic inflammation. But there also seems to be something about chewing activity that stimulates the brain, and when our ability to chew is lost, we may be at a greater risk of losing cognition.
When we lose the ability to chew, we also lose our access to a full variety of healthy foods. As your body is unable to get all the nutrients it needs, your health can decline.
Oral Health and Your Immune System
One of the biggest ways your oral health can impact your overall health is by affecting your immune system. When you have poor oral health and gum disease, your immune system begins to attack the infection in your gums. However, when the infection is too strong, your immune system continues to work overtime without making any progress.
While your immune system is busy trying to fight off your gum disease, it begins to ignore the other areas of your body experiencing infection or inflammation. This means if you contract COVID-19, the flu, or a simple infection from a cut, your body will have a significantly more difficult time healing itself. As a result, it can lead to more complications like pneumonia, hospitalization, or even death.
With that said, if you want to maintain a strong immune system, it’s crucial to maintain good oral health so you can fight off any big threats to your health.
Preserve Your Oral Health and Overall Health
As you can see, your oral health has many ways that it can impact your overall health. If you want to stay healthy, you need to take care of your oral health.
If you are looking for a Rockland County dentist who can be your whole health partner, please call (845) 627-7645 today for an appointment with Dr. Mark Dunayer at B & D Dental Excellence in West Nyack.