The mouth and body connection is the link between the health of your mouth and your overall health. The mouth is the gateway into our bodies and is a direct reflection of our general systemic health.
According to the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health, the spread of oral bacteria throughout the body can result in chronic inflammation, a process linked to many systemic issues, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. Poor oral health has also been linked to Alzheimer’s, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, and even pregnancy complications.
Increased inflammation, pathogenic bacteria and dysbiosis, gingivitis, cavities, halitosis, failing dental work, and periodontitis can all have significant downstream effects on our bodies if left untreated and not prioritized.
Dental disease affects systemic disease through bacteria and microbes that can easily pass through inflamed gum tissue, get into our bloodstreams, lymph, and nervous systems, travel throughout the body, and end up where they don’t belong. These microbes can even get dispersed into our guts through our daily act of swallowing 2000 times a day, contributing to GI issues, immune and hormonal imbalances, and more.
The teeth, tongue, cheeks, gingival sulcus, tonsils, hard palate, and soft palate provide a rich environment where microorganisms can flourish. The oral microbiome has over 700 species of bacteria and over 2 billion bacteria in all.
If your oral microbiome is full of harmful bacteria, when absorbed by the body (into the gut or bloodstream), it can cause systemic inflammation and manifest in the joints, heart, or even the brain. The body’s immune response to the bacteria then becomes critical. And since the immune system is mainly dependent on the microbiome in your body, keeping it healthy is critical.
In understanding the connection between the mouth and body, Functional Dentists are trained to examine and connect your dental conditions with your food and lifestyle habits. They recognize that the mouth acts as a mirror and gateway that reflects what is happening in the rest of your body.
Research has shown that oral infection, especially periodontitis (inflammation of the gums), has a profound effect on systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, bacterial pneumonia, diabetes mellitus, and low birth weight (or premature birth). Many gastrointestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis or celiac disease can be diagnosed from the symptoms seen in the mouth before any symptoms occur in the gut.
Gum disease and oral health may be related to other conditions as well. These include:
- Diabetes. Inflammation that starts in the mouth due to gum disease weakens the body’s ability to control blood sugar, leading to diabetes. High blood sugar, in turn, provides ideal conditions for gum disease.
- Heart disease and stroke. Gum disease and heart disease often go hand in hand. It is believed that inflammation in the mouth can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels. There’s also a greater risk that fatty plaque will break off the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.
- Low birth weight. Hormonal changes can increase the risk for periodontitis in women during pregnancy. Infection and inflammation interfere with a fetus’ development in the womb and lead to preterm labor. Low birth weight can cause significant health problems for the baby in the future, including lung conditions, heart conditions, and learning disorders.
- Respiratory disease. Bacteria in the mouth can move to the lungs and cause pneumonia. This is more commonly seen in people with periodontal disease.
- Sleep apnea. This condition causes repeated breathing interruptions throughout the night and is usually brought on due to airway obstructions caused when the muscles in the back of the throat are lax, the tongue is too large, or the jaw is too small. The first sign of sleep apnea is often tooth grinding (which can result in tooth wear and breakage) and inflamed and receding gums.
- Cancer. Although more research is needed, there is evidence that gum disease increases the risk of certain forms of cancer, such as kidney, pancreatic, and blood cancers.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There is evidence that associates a higher risk for RA for those with periodontal disease.
Keeping microorganisms balanced is the key to optimal well-being. These interdependent and symbiotic populations of bacteria are not harmful to the body. Instead, they help maintain a check on the pathogenic species by not adhering to the mucosa and propagating.
Additionally, saliva provides the perfect medium for transporting nutrients to microorganisms. Saliva is also rich in enzymes and proteins, which neutralize the pH in the mouth and fight away unwanted bacteria. Healthy saliva is integral for maintaining oral microbiome balance and equilibrium. Similarly, the gut microbiome balances the immune response against pathogens in the gut. These bacteria ensure that the immune response is effective without harming your body.
Any imbalance in this state of equilibrium allows pathogenic bacteria to multiply and cause infection and disease.
Follow these tips to improve your oral health.
- Floss daily. Daily flossing is paramount to oral health. Children should start as young as 2 years old.
- Make healthy changes to your diet. Diet is the key to overall health. Avoid ultra-processed foods and Eat The Rainbow daily.
- Hydrate with water. Skip sugary drinks with additives, natural flavors, and food dyes.
- Get your sleep and breathing under control. Nasal breathing and deep, restorative sleep are critical for adults and children.
Clearly, good oral health prevents issues like tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath and postively affects the rest of the body.
If you’d like to learn more about the mouth and body connection and what you can do to improve your family’s oral health, Follow Dr. Staci on Instagram or TikTok.