Many people think that because you go to a doctor for your body and a dentist for your mouth, that the two are somehow separate. However, the truth is that your oral health and overall health are actually closely linked, and 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.
Your Mouth Is the Gateway
Your body is designed to have one entrance for pretty much everything: your mouth. While that’s 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.
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 even been linked to colorectal cancer.
And because of 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 oral bacteria are commonly found in arterial plaque.
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. This inflammation is triggered throughout the body, not just in 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.
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.