According to the American Dental Association, 40% of people with gum disease also have a chronic health condition. That’s a pretty serious statistic, and as we’ll see below that’s not a coincidence! There’s some compelling evidence that chronic disease begins with poor dental hygiene.
Our digestive system starts in the mouth, so it stands to reason that problems in oral hygiene, much like digestion problems, can result in chronic disease. Oral problems can also be a symptom of other diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Not taking proper care of your mouth results in inflammation and bacterial overgrowth, which not only causes diseases of the teeth and gums, but can cause problems for other body systems if left unchecked.
In the past decade, we’ve have seen a growing body of research linking the health of your mouth to the overall health of your body including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis. This is mostly due to increase in inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein and clotting factors like fibrinogen.
Several factors can affect oral health—it’s not just about brushing and flossing. The health of your mouth and teeth is affected by diet (frequent consumption of processed and high-sugar foods/beverages), stress levels, quality of sleep, poor digestion, deficiencies in minerals and vitamins, and medication.
Living with a chronic health condition can have detrimental effects on oral health. “For example, many medicines … can reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth, resulting in dry mouth,” says Dr. David Albert, associate professor of clinical dentistry at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. “Patients with asthma often breathe through their mouths, which can result in dry mouth, increased plaque formation, and gingivitis.” (1)
Diabetes has been long thought of as a disease resulting from over-consumption of sugar. However, in more recent research, the link between inflammation and diabetes has become more evident. So inflammation from poor dental health can contribute to this inflammatory cascade and contribute to development of diabetes.
Another complication of diabetes is gum disease that results from impaired blood flow through the blood vessels. When the gums don’t receive sufficient blood flow, they become weak and vulnerable to infection. If diabetes is not properly managed, high glucose levels in the mouth will promote bacterial growth.
Chronic bacterial infection of the gums, or periodontal disease (PD), has been linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Researchers are still examining the exact mechanisms for this connection, but it has been suggested that PD increases inflammation and fibrinogen, both risk factors for heart disease.
It’s also possible that bacteria from the mouth travels into the bloodstream and adds to buildup of plaque in the arteries. While there isn’t a direct cause-and-effect relationship, both PD and heart disease share common risk factors including smoking and diabetes.
In a recent small study, bacteria from the mouth was found in synovial (joint) fluid in people with knee arthritis. For some participants in these studies, there was a genetic match between the bacteria in the mouth and that found in the joint fluid. Further research is required, but this adds to the evidence suggesting that inflammation (common in both gum disease and arthritis) can exacerbate inflammation and pain in arthritis.
On a weekly basis, check inside your mouth for swollen or bleeding gums; foul mouth odor that does not go away; cracked, chipped, or discolored teeth; tooth and/or jaw pain; and sores or lesions on the gums, cheeks, or tongue. Any of these can be symptomatic of more serious health problems and should be brought to the attention of your doctor.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also contribute to oral health. Deficiencies in calcium and magnesium for example can result in tooth weakness or decay. Deficiencies in CoQ10, vitamins C and B vitamins can cause gum sensitivities, bleeding and recession.