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Your Oral Health and Your Overall Health – It’s All Connected

Ever wonder why your dentist asks you so many questions about your health and lifestyle when you visit the office for your routine cleaning and exam?  It’s because your overall health and your oral health are 100% interconnected. There are many health conditions that can lead to issues with your teeth and gums, and your dentist needs to do their due diligence to ensure that you receive the best oral healthcare possible. Read on for the 8 most common health conditions that can cause tooth decay and gum disease.  

1. High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, tell your dentist and keep an eye out for red, irritated and bleeding gums, as high blood pressure can increase the risk of developing gum disease. In addition, if you’re on medication to help control your blood pressure, these medications can not only affect your gums, but also cause dry mouth, a leading cause of tooth decay.  

2. Diabetes

Diabetes can cause both dry mouth and periodontitis (severe gum disease). Dry mouth, or a lack of saliva in the mouth, is one of the most common symptoms of diabetes.  Since saliva helps protect your teeth against the bacteria that cause tooth decay, a lack of saliva leaves your teeth vulnerable to cavities and tooth decay.

And as decay increases, the risk of gum disease also increases.  In fact, 25% of all people diagnosed with diabetes also develop gum disease.  For those with periodontitis, the severe form of gum disease, the gums pull away from the teeth, making teeth loose and possibly even leading to the loss of teeth. 

If you have type I or type II diabetes, keeping your blood sugar under control can significantly lower your risk of developing periodontitis. If you do have gum disease and diabetes, it is a good idea to consult with a periodontist, a specialist in diagnosing and treating gum disease.  It is also important to talk to your endocrinologist if you have gum disease so that they can help you keep it under control. 

3. Long-Term Kidney Disease

Long-term kidney disease and severe gum issues are closely linked. Chronic kidney disease can lead to weakened and brittle bones, high blood pressure and heart disease, all of which are connected to gum disease.  Chronic gum infection can cause inflammation throughout your body, further taxing your kidneys. 

If you have kidney disease, it is vitally important that you practice good oral hygiene and visit the dentist at even the slightest hint of a problem. Even a minor infection in your mouth could develop into something very serious.  

Also, if you notice that your breath smells like fish or ammonia, talk to your dentist and doctor right away. This is a very common sign of kidney disease. 

4. Lung Disease

Lung diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), bronchitis, and pneumonia are thought to be linked to gum disease. If you have gum disease, you have an increased amount of harmful bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria can travel to other parts of your body, including your lungs, and can trigger lung disease. 

It is important to work with your dentist to keep your gums and teeth healthy, and it is also critical tell your doctor if you have gum disease and are also experiencing symptoms  such as coughing or shortness of breath. 

If you are smoker, discuss a smoking cessation plan with your doctor. Smoking makes both gum disease and lung diseases worse, leading to more serious issues.  

5. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis typically affects older women and men. It is a condition in which your bones thin and become more fragile. Your dentist may suspect osteoporosis if you are older and have loose teeth or a loose denture, which is a strong indicator that you may have weakened bones in the rest of your body. 

If your dentist suspects that you may have osteoporosis, they may take dental x-rays, which can show that your jawbone has become less dense; thus leading to loose teeth.  Diet changes and medication may be needed to treat osteoporosis, so don’t hesitate to call your doctor right away if you dentist sees signs of this condition. 

6. Autoimmune Conditions

Autoimmune diseases are a family of diseases in which your immune system mistakenly attacks your body, thinking that healthy cells are actually harmful, foreign cells. The immune system normally fends off bacteria and viruses, but in those with autoimmune conditions, the immune system can’t tell the difference between foreign cells and healthy cells. Thus, the immune system releases autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.  Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ, but others are systemic and affect the whole body. 

An example of an autoimmune condition that is closely linked to oral health issues is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Studies suggest that RA increases the chances that you will develop gum disease and that having gum disease increases your risk of RA. As with all other health conditions (oral or otherwise), it is important to see your dentist regularly, brush and floss and eat a healthy diet that is low in sugar and acid. 

7. Anemia

If you are anemic, you lack enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to your body’s tissues. Having anemia can make you feel tired and weak, and your gums may be pale and sore.  If you have anemia, you may need to take iron or vitamins to supplement your diet. Also, you may have a more serious condition, such as internal bleeding. If your dentist notices you have pale gums, they will tell you contact your doctor right away to rule out any serious issues. 

8.  Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal acid reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that can cause stomach acid to flow up into your esophagus instead of going through your digestive tract. In some cases, this acid can end up in your mouth, leading to dry mouth and an increased risk of gum disease. 

In addition, stomach acid can eat away at the enamel on your teeth. The enamel protects your teeth from damage and decay.  When exposed to stomach acid, the enamel can wear away, leaving teeth vulnerable.  This can lead to tooth infections, severe discomfort and an increased risk of tooth loss, as well as tooth sensitivity. 

No part of the body functions truly independently, and your mouth is no exception. Tooth decay and gum disease can be caused by much more than just poor oral hygiene.  They are often symptoms or warning signs of something much larger, and possibly more dangerous, happening in the body. This is why it is so important to tell your dentist about what’s going on with your overall health (and why your dentist asks so many questions). It’s all interconnected!