How are our teeth connected to our bodies? Speaking literally, the root of each tooth, surrounded by cementum, is embedded into our jawbone.
But from a more figurative standpoint, our teeth are connected to our bodies because our oral health affects our overall health, and vice versa. If we let our guard down in our mouths, we might find ourselves facing problems with infections, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy complications, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Flossing may be a hard habit to maintain, but it’s vital. Flossing “prevent[s] infections from spreading from the tooth to other parts of the body.”
How does this happen? Dr. Nate Anderson explains: “When gums are infected, the seal of fibers surrounding each tooth is weakened. This means that elements from the outside environment can enter the bloodstream via the mouth.” Yikes!
The relationship between diabetes and gum disease is proven and strong. In fact, gum disease affects nearly 22 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes.
Research indicates that “inflammation that starts in the mouth seems to weaken the body’s ability to control blood sugar. People with diabetes have trouble processing sugar because of a lack of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into energy.” And in turn, “poor blood sugar control increases the risk for gum problems.”
Here’s a troubling statistic: as many as 91 percent of patients with heart disease have gum disease. Compare that with people who don’t have heart disease, whose rate of gum disease is 66 percent.
When bacteria spread from your mouth to your heart through the bloodstream, “they can attach themselves to any damaged area and cause inflammation.” This inflammation caused by oral bacteria has been linked to conditions like endocarditis, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), and stroke.
As if taking care of your teeth for the sake of your own health weren’t enough pressure, if you’re pregnant, your oral health can also affect the health of your growing baby! Studies have found a link between gum disease in the mother with premature birth and low birthweight.
Unfortunately, pregnancy hormones can make your gums tender and sensitive, and “as many as half of all women develop pregnancy gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease that is most common between the second and eighth months of pregnancy.”
Studies have found that “tooth loss – a marker for periodontal (gum) disease – may predict rheumatoid arthritis and its severity. The more teeth lost, the greater the risk of RA, one study found.”
On a more hopeful note, treating gum disease “has been shown to reduce pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.”
“We recommend brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and seeing your dental hygienist twice a year,” said Dr. Anderson. “The effort is really quite small once you make it a habit, but the benefits are endless.”
These benefits include avoiding problems with infections, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy, and rheumatoid arthritis. That’s quite the list! Bottom line? Taking care of your teeth is about more than having a gleaming smile–it’s about being truly healthy.