The Mouth-Body Connection: Eight Reasons Why Oral Health Matters To Your Whole Body

Most of us know that brushing our teeth at least twice a day and flossing daily is good for us because it prevents cavities and gingivitis.  But there is a growing body of research that shows that good oral health can help prevent disease not only in the mouth but throughout the whole body!  

Here are eight key ways in which having a healthy mouth can improve health in lots of other areas!A healthy mouth prevents atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

      1) Oral bacteria causes inflammation in your mouth that leads to plaque depositing around your teeth -- which (hopefully) your dental hygienist scrapes off every 6 months during your cleaning.  The bacteria can also travel to your heart, where it does the same thing: The inflammation leads to plaque depositing in your coronary arteries, which can lead to heart disease -- and even heart attacks.

      2) A healthy mouth decreases your risk of dementia.

           Just like oral bacteria can cause plaque to deposit in your coronary arteries, it can do the same thing in your brain.  Taking good care of your teeth means there’s less bacteria to cause inflammation and plaque deposits in the vessels that supply your brain with the oxygenated blood it needs to keep you thinking sharply for a long time to come.

       3) A healthy mouth is good for your bones.

       The space under your tongue (called the sublingual space) contains multiple blood vessels.  The good news about having a highly vascular space in your mouth is that life-saving medicine (like nitroglycerin) can be placed under your tongue and absorbed into your bloodstream within minutes.   The not-so-good news is that unhealthy oral bacteria can enter your bloodstream through the sublingual space and, in some cases, travel to your bones and cause an infection called osteomyelitis that requires many weeks of antibiotics -- and sometimes surgery -- to heal.

        4) A healthy mouth is good for your pregnancy.

        Women who have an oral infection called periodontitis, where the underlying teeth structures become inflamed and infected, are more likely to go into preterm labor and have low birth weight babies.  Why? Because several of the bacteria that cause periodontitis release harmful toxins that travel through the placenta to the fetus, and lead to fetal distress that triggers preterm labor.       

         5) A healthy mouth prevents heart infections.

         Remember how oral bacteria can enter the sublingual vessels and travel to your bones and cause osteomyelitis?  Well, oral bacteria can also travel to your heart and cause endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of your heart chambers and valves.

          6) A healthy mouth is good for your sexual health.

          When unhealthy levels of bacteria enter the bloodstream through the sublingual space, they can travel not only to the heart and brain and deposit plaque there; they can also deposit plaque in the genital blood vessels -- which is a leading cause of erectile dysfunction.

          7) A healthy mouth promotes healthy blood sugars.

          Although at first glance it’s not intuitive that bacteria in your mouth could affect your blood sugar, it turns out the two are very closely connected.  Oral bacteria leads to inflammation that can spread throughout your body. When the body experiences inflammation, tissues are less sensitive to insulin, which causes blood sugars to rise.

          8) A healthy mouth prevents respiratory infections.

          When an unhealthy level of bacteria builds up in the mouth, it can easily be aspirated into the lungs, where it can cause dangerous respiratory infections like pneumonia.

 

So do yourself a favor!  Brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss every day, avoid sugary beverages, change your toothbrush every 3-4 months, and visit your dentist for regular check-ups.  When you take good care of your mouth, your whole body will thank you!

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Author
Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on MSNBC.com. She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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