7/19/2013

The Mouth - Body Connection



Let’s face it. Most of us take our teeth for granted. Sure, we brush and floss (well, some of the time). And we know, of course, that teeth are essential for chewing our food and for maintaining a beautiful smile. But when we get a cavity – or even when we are diagnosed with gum disease that might culminate in tooth loss – we rarely think of these problems as posing permanent risks to our general health and vitality.

We simply don’t place the same importance on our dental health as we do on, say, the health of our vital organs. After all, the mouth is the domain of the dentist; the body, the domain of the doctor.

But that perspective is changing. Recent research provides convincing evidence that oral health and overall health are inextricably linked –what’s good for our mouth is also good for the rest of the body that we work so hard to keep fit and healthy. Dentists increasingly screen for systemic diseases, which involve many organs or the whole body, through tongue assessments, saliva tests, blood pressure checks, and simple observation of the teeth and gums.

Because your mouth acts as a virtual window to the rest of your body, a healthy smile is often a sign of a healthy individual. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: The presence of oral infections like periodontitis (gum disease) and tooth decay could be a sign of other underlying problems. And it’s often a two-way street – sometimes it’s the lack of oral hygiene that leads to other conditions, while other times, it’s those conditions that lead to a decline in your oral health.

To emphasize the connection between oral health and overall health, we can refer to the not-so-appealing metaphor of the mouth as a garbage dump on the edge of a river: “You wouldn't be surprised if the lake downstream ended up polluted with the garbage from the dump. A patient’s bloodstream acts very much like the river in this analogy, in that it carries the bacteria from the periodontal plaques, possibly ‘polluting’ the arteries of the heart with periodontal bacteria, causing inflammation of the arteries, which may lead to a heart attack. This potential effect of periodontal bacteria further supports the need for regular dental hygienist visits for deep cleanings to enhance overall health and well-being.

It should also be noted that gumdisease and heart disease share several risk factors, including smoking, obesity and unhealthy eating habits. In fact, not smoking and maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle are some of the most effective things you can do to keep your mouth and body healthy.

Tooth loss and dental infection are not the only potential problems posed by periodontal disease. Research suggests there may be a link between gum disease and other health concerns such as diabetes, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, and increased risk of preterm and low birth weight babies.

Diabetic patients are three-to-four times more likely to develop chronic periodontal infections. Like any other infection in the body, periodontal infections can impair the ability to process and/or utilize insulin, which can make diabetes more difficult to control. 

These infections may cause increased blood sugar that can increase the periods of time when a diabetic's blood sugar is too high. Consequently, it is important for diabetic patients to have their periodontal disease treated to control or eliminate the infection as one more way to achieve optimal control of their blood sugar levels. Periodontal therapy has been shown to improve blood sugars levels in diabetic patients, and may decrease their need for insulin.

A New Approach to Dental Health; the fields of dentistry and medicine have traditionally been worlds apart. But in light of the growing evidence pointing to links between oral and whole body health, this separation of disciplines is slowly beginning to change.

This link between oral and overall health, which is now becoming common in conventional dentistry, has for years been a key tenet of what’s known as holistic dentistry, which takes an integrated approach to dental care.

Holistic Dentistry is a contemporary approach to dental treatment; examining the relationship between your oral health and the rest of your body, focusing on overall harmony – not just your teeth!
Preventive dental care and good dental hygiene are major components in holistic dentistry. These fields of dentistry treatment are concerned with the maintenance of your natural teeth for life with limited dental restorations.

At Lane Ends Dental Practice we seek to inform our patients in preventive and nutritional dental care. We utilize the most non-invasive dental techniques and aspire to work with you towards a healthier smile.