The Mouth-Body Connection: Links Between Oral Hygiene and Whole Body Health
We all know the phrase, “mind-body connection,” but what about “mouth-body connection?” Does what goes on in the mouth affect the rest of the body, and vice versa? More and more research has been conducted to determine the link between oral hygiene and the health of the body, much of which has focused on systemic issues caused by gum disease.
When we fail to look after our oral hygiene, we put ourselves at risk of developing something called periodontitis (gum disease), a bacterial infection in the mouth. Gum disease causes gums to bleed, which allows the bacteria in the mouth to enter the bloodstream. Read on to learn more about the systemic diseases and health complications linked to this bacteria in the blood!
Cardiovascular Disease | As bacteria from the mouth travels through the body via the bloodstream, it can affect the blood vessels in negative ways. The bacteria can cause arteries to create plaque and harden, something called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis causes issues with blood flow and can go so far as to block the heart, leading to a heart attack.
Stroke | As the blood vessels continue to respond negatively to bacteria from the mouth, and incur the damage caused by atherosclerosis, arteries in the brain can begin to weaken and blood clots can begin to form. Both of these things are precursors to a stroke. The bacteria can also cause hypertension, another disease that weakens the arteries, which can lead to a stroke.
Endocarditis | Repeat exposure of the inner linings of the heart, the chambers and the valves, to bacteria from the mouth, can create growth pockets of bacteria as they attach to these tissues and cause them to become inflamed. This inflammation of the heart tissue is called endocarditis and can be fatal.
Respiratory Infection | Bacteria from the mouth can enter the lungs through breathing. This can lead to respiratory infections including pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The bacteria can worsen existing conditions.
Diabetes | Gum disease can complicate diabetes as bacteria from the mouth weakens the body’s ability to use insulin and convert sugar in the blood to energy. This, in turn, leads to higher than normal blood sugar levels and increases in blood pressure.
Kidney Disease | The bacteria from gum disease weaken the immune system, increasing the likelihood of infection. People who have poor oral hygiene are more likely to have kidney disease.
Osteoporosis | Gum disease contributes to the loss of bone tissue in the mouth, and can contribute to bone loss throughout the body, including the hips, back, and wrists.
Rheumatoid Arthritis | As previously mentioned, the bacteria from gum disease cause inflammation in the body. If someone already suffers from the inflammatory autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, their pain can worsen with the addition of gum disease.
Dementia & Alzheimer’s | Bacteria in the blood affects the brain, too. When the nerve cells in the brain are repeatedly exposed to the bacteria, they can die, leading to the kind of memory loss present in dementia and Alzheimer’s. The effects can go both ways. Learn more in our blog How Oral Health Impacts Mental Health (and vice versa!).
Pregnancy Complications | Women who have gum disease have an increased risk of complications for the birth of their child, including premature birth, a low birth weight, and infection in their newborn. This is due to bacteria in the blood traveling to the developing infant.
Infertility | It can take longer for women with poor oral hygiene to get pregnant than those who have healthy mouths.
Erectile Dysfunction | As mentioned, bacteria from the mouth causes blood vessels to become inflamed, blocking blood flow to all parts of the body.
Cancer | There are links between poor oral hygiene and increased risks for blood cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and oropharyngeal cancer.
Your mouth is the gateway to your body. Take better care of your overall health and avoid complications by respecting your “mouth-body” connection and exercising proper oral hygiene! If you would like to learn more about how to keep your whole body healthy starting with your mouth, schedule an appointment with Dr. Owen Mandanas! Dr. Mandanas is an integrative dentist who takes a holistic approach to healthcare.