One of the traits of western medicine is its tendency to see the body as a mass of separate parts, rather than one whole. While this has given way to some incredible advancements and specialisms, it is important to remember that everything is interlinked. The state of our oral health for instance, can in fact be a strong indicator of problems elsewhere in the body and vice versa.
Much of this comes down to things like infections that if left untreated can make their way into the bloodstream. Research has shown that people with gum disease are far more likely to suffer from certain health conditions – further emphasising the importance of taking good care of our teeth and gums.
Heart disease for example, is twice as likely to affect people with gum disease than people without. This is because the bacteria behind gum disease produce protein that can cause the platelets in the blood to stick together in the heart. This then increases the chances of clots forming, which in turn reduce the blood flow and the delivery of all the necessary nutrients to the heart. If the blood flow is affected badly enough a heart attack may occur.
Another health issue found to be closely associated with gum disease is premature birth. In fact, there is a one-in-four chance that a pregnant woman will give birth before 35 weeks. It is thought that gum disease raises the levels of the chemicals that bring on labour. For women whose gum disease worsens during pregnancy, the risk of giving birth prematurely will increase.
The mouth is also part of the respiratory system, and so oral health can affect the lungs too. One of the possible causes of bacterial chest infections is breathing in fine droplets from the mouth and throat, which can cause conditions such as pneumonia, as well as making existing conditions worse. People who have gum disease or high levels of bacteria in the mouth are therefore at higher risk of contracting a chest infection. Anyone particularly prone to chest and lung problems should pay great attention to their oral health.
The link between diabetes and gum disease is prevalent, and the two conditions are very much interchangeable. Diabetics are more likely to get infections and so are more at risk of gum disease. They also tend to heal more slowly. Conversely, gum disease can increase blood sugar levels, thus posing as an even greater threat to people with diabetes. It is absolutely essential that diabetics maintain a rigorous oral health routine as well as having regular discussions with their dentist.
If you are concerned about your oral health and the affect it could be having on the rest of your body contact your local dental practice to book an appointment.