Updated: Jan 4
The start of a new year prompts many people to begin a new habit, make improvements in health, and generally try to better themselves. And what better place to start than with your teeth?
To almost all people and in almost any setting, a beautiful smile is seen as a greeting, an expression of happiness, an ice-breaker, and a way to set a social situation at ease. However, that wonderful smile doesn’t come without a price, and healthy practices (and skilled dentistry, as necessary) are required to maintain it. Good oral health sustains not only a dazzling smile, but also strong enamel, remediation of tooth decay, and gums kept free from periodontal disease.
In recent decades, researchers have learned more and more that the effects of unhealthy teeth and gums reach much further than one’s mouth. They have found that unresolved dental problems can have profound negative effects on body systems and organs.
A possible connection between dental problems and heart health has been talked about extensively for some years.
According to Harvard Medical School, possible proposed causes include:
The bacteria that cause dental diseases could travel through the body to the heart, where they may cause inflammation of blood vessels.
The inflammation portion of bodily immune response may be the beginning stage of vascular damage to the heart and brain
Gum disease may be a co-factor in exacerbating heart issues with another direct cause, such as smoking or poor exercise habits.
“Although the findings indicate a strong link between gum disease and heart disease, it’s still unclear whether one actually causes the other,” says the American Heart Association. Even so, major dental insurance carriers, such as Delta Dental, still recommend strengthening one’s oral care habits; whether or not the heart–dental connection is ever proven, excellent dental hygiene practices definitely improve oral health while having a possibly beneficial effect on heart health.
Cleveland Clinic offers additional guidance in this area. For patients at risk of developing bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart’s inner lining, superior diligence to daily oral care is required. If such patients are scheduled to receive surgery on heart valves, a pre-operative dental screening is necessary. Patients who have experienced myocardial infarction (heart attack) should wait at least six months before receiving any extensive dental care. Cardiovascular medications also have a connection to dental care; patients taking medications such as anticoagulants, antihypertensives, and calcium channel blockers (for treatment/prevention of stroke, high blood pressure, and angina, respectively) need to provide all details to their dentists prior to receiving any dental treatments.
Researchers believe that the kidneys can be seriously compromised by periodontal disease, for reasons similar to those proposed for the connection between heart disease and dental health.
According to the National Kidney Foundation: “Dental cavities and gum diseases are chronic bacterial infections [that] can contribute to other problems by fueling harmful chronic inflammation … and may spread throughout the body.” The effects of such bacteria can be problematic for those with weak kidneys, and potentially life-threatening for dialysis patients. The medicines taken by dialysis patients can have amplifying effects on the bleeding that sometimes occurs during dental procedures. Patients who are under consideration for a kidney transplant are required to undergo a dental health screening because of the potential connection.
Dental patients who experience loose teeth may have a calcium imbalance connected to kidney disease, according to Delta Dental. Researchers also suspect that the weakened immune systems of kidney patients may result in higher-than-normal bacterial buildup in the mouth, once again demonstrating a possible connection between kidney and dental problems.
Considering that food enters the body through the mouth, a possible connection between poor oral hygiene and gastrointestinal problems should not come as a surprise. Research in this area appears to indicate that there may be a two-way connection: oral health problems may contribute to GI problems, and vice versa.
GI Society (Canadian Society of Intestinal Research) highlights a number of conditions in which an oral–GI connection may be a factor:
Patients with a history of gum disease may have a much higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
A percentage of patients with Crohn’s disease experience oral lesions, as well as swelling of lips, gums, and oral tissues.
Oral symptoms in inflammatory bowel disease patients can resemble symptoms found in their digestive tracts.
Jaundice, caused by increased blood levels of bilirubin, may manifest in oral tissues, particularly the underside of the tongue.
Malabsorption issues (most commonly, with iron and vitamin B12) can result in tongue inflammation or infection, as well as the possibility of oral lesions or ulcers.
One GI–oral medical connection that is not up for debate is acid reflux, caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Patients with this condition suffer enamel erosion due to the frequent and high levels of acid in the mouth. In fact, the degree of the enamel erosion may assist in diagnosing how severe the GERD condition is. Because enamel loss cannot be reversed, patients with unresolved GERD are candidates for restorative dental treatment.
Many readers probably would not expect a connection between oral health and mental health. But according to some researchers, that connection definitely exists. According to Oral Health Foundation: “Some of the most common mental illnesses that can have a negative impact on a person’s oral health include: anxiety and panic attacks, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-harm, schizophrenia and psychosis.”
Insurance carrier Delta Dental also recognizes the realities of the mental-health connection, stating that the “most obvious explanation for the link comes from the behavioral effects of stress, depression and anxiety. People with these conditions sometimes lose focus on oral health habits, which can lead to significant dental issues.” Delta Dental also asserts that patients with anxiety are more likely to suffer from canker sores, dry mouth, or bruxism (teeth grinding). Side effects of anxiety medication may be one possible cause.
Bottom Line: Brush, Floss, and See Your Dentist Regularly.
Although most of these oral-health connections have not yet been definitively proven, there is a general consensus among researchers that poor oral health almost certainly has a detrimental effect on one’s body. Consistency with good oral care will not only maintain your dazzling smile—it may contribute to your overall good health.
Mayo Clinic - Will taking care of my teeth help prevent heart disease?
American Heart Association - Bad toothbrushing habits tied to higher heart risk
University of California San Francisco - Investigating a Link Between Oral Health and Kidney Function
Verywell Health - Why Healthy Digestion Begins in the Mouth
National Institutes of Health - Can oral bacteria affect the microbiome of the gut?
The Atlas Blog - Dysbiosis Of The Oral Microbiota Causes Gut And Health Problems
National Institutes of Health - No Mental Health without Oral Health
Bottom Line: Brush, Floss, and See Your Dentist Regularly.
We accept most insurance plans. Our friendly staff is ready to answer any questions and to check your insurance coverage to resolve any issues. To save time on your dental visit, you can conveniently fill out patient paperwork ahead of time by using the links on our website. Because your dental health shouldn’t have to wait, Dentures Plus Lenexa partners with CareCredit and Wells Fargo Health Advantage® to offer our patients financing options. Checkout Dentures Plus Implant and Dental Center Financing options!
Dentures Plus in Lenexa looks forward to servicing your dental, denture, and implant needs! Whether you’re a new resident in Johnson County seeking to maintain your oral hygiene or get a dental problem fixed, or an existing patient who is experiencing an issue with dentures or implants, we’re here to help. Please stop into our office at 8630 Maurer Road in Lenexa or call us today at 913-227-0466. At Dentures Plus in Lenexa, your health comes first – period. For the best dental, denture, and implant service in the Kansas City area, contact us today!