Mouth-Body Connection

Mouth-Body Connection

Mouth-Body Connection
Oral hygiene is directly connected to overall health, both reflecting and affecting it. Poor oral hygiene can lead to caries, halitosis, abscess and heart disease, and bacteria in your mouth can travel to the rest of your body and cause serious complications.

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    David Wong, D.M.D., D.M.Sc., professor and associate dean of research at the UCLA School of Dentistry notes that systemic diseases such as HIV and osteoporosis are often first detected through symptoms in the mouth -- the appearance of hairy tongue and severe gum infection in the case of HIV and the first stages of bone loss for osteoporosis. Gum disease and other mouth infections can also contribute to problems elsewhere in the body. Gum disease has been linked in studies to a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as premature birth. Poor oral health can also make diabetes more difficult to control.
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    Women who take birth control pills (oral contraceptives) may have more sensitive or inflamed gums, decreased flow of saliva, which can lead to dry mouth and bad breath, and dry socket if tooth extractions are needed. If a woman taking birth control pills gets a mouth infection, she needs to tell the dentist about her contraceptive use, because antibiotics used to treat the infection may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills.

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    For some people, unhealthy gums can lead to gum disease, which has been linked to systemic diseases. You can practice good oral hygiene by always brushing your teeth twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste, cleaning between your teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner, replacing your toothbrush every three or four months and by eating a balanced diet and limiting between-meal snacks.

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    Eating disorders can definitely affect your teen's oral health. Without the proper nutrition, gums and other soft tissue inside the mouth may bleed more easily and the glands that produce saliva may swell. If your teen suffers from bulimia, throwing up frequently can also affect the teeth because when strong stomach acid repeatedly flow, enamel can be lost to the point that the teeth change in color, shape and length. The edges of teeth become thin and/or break off easily. Eating hot or cold food or drink may become uncomfortable.

    If you suspect your teen has an eating disorder, talk to his or her physician. You should also seek guidance from health professionals trained in eating disorders and consider contacting the National Eating Disorders Associations for information on how to support your child.
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    Other illnesses can affect your oral health. Bone loss in the jaw due to osteoporosis can require oral surgery to correct. HIV/AIDS may cause mouth lesions that need to be treated by a dentist. The first symptoms of diseases such as cancer, gonorrhea, Sjogren's syndrome, and syphilis often appear in the mouth. Patients with cardiovascular disease should pay particular attention to their oral health, because gum infections can have serious heart-related complications. Diabetes can make oral healthcare challenging, first because diabetes is a risk factor for gum disease, and second, because gum disease can make diabetes more difficult to control.

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    Researchers don't know exactly how the hormones estrogen and progesterone affect gums. Although this relationship is not well understood, researchers have documented changes in gum sensitivity, inflammation, and a higher risk of periodontal disease during hormonal changes in a woman's life. These include puberty, menstruation, the use of birth control pills, pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, and trying to find the optimal dose of estrogen replacement. Good oral health care practices, routine dentist visits, and a good diet can help prevent any increased risk of periodontal disease from hormonal fluctuations. Some research suggests that estrogen supplements might slow the progression of periodontal disease.
     
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    The connection between oral health and overall health underscores the importance of thorough brushing and flossing of teeth as well as making regular visits to the dentist, David Wong, D.M.D., D.M.Sc., professor and associate dean of research at the UCLA School of Dentistry, says. But beyond that, since adults tend to visit a dentist’s office more frequently than a physician’s office, there is a movement to expand the role of the dentist to include routine blood pressure measurements to detect cardiovascular abnormalities, as well as glucose monitoring for individuals at risk for diabetes. “One-fourth of people with diabetes are not diagnosed, and there are more than 20 million people who are prediabetic,” Dr. Wong notes. “Dentists can be a major contributor as a partner with the medical community in conducting screenings and evaluations for diabetes and a number of other life-threatening diseases.”
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    Dentists are helpful in recognizing brittle bones and osteoporosis in women because they see patients more frequently than doctors. Dental X-rays can be helpful in detecting osteoporosis. Dentists know what to look for, so they are in a good position to help find osteoporosis that may have gone undetected. Dentists are concerned about a number of problems that might accompany osteoporosis, such as loose teeth, detached or receding gums, and dentures that do not fit. These can be signs of lower bone density, which could lead to tooth loss or periodontal disease.

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    It’s important to let your dentist know about all the medications that you take. That’s because certain medications can influence dental treatment decisions. This includes oral health. Your dentist can discuss your oral health care needs and will factor this into his/her recommendations on any treatments or procedures. You should also discuss the medication with your physician or other healthcare provider.
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    Yes, some oral health problems can lead to life-threatening conditions. For instance, mouth and throat cancer can be life-threatening and can cause serious problems. This is why oral health matters. While everyone loves having a nice smile, it's important to see a dentist regularly so they can examine your mouth, not only for cavities, but for other health conditions as well.
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