You’ve probably seen the news stories about how poor oral health causes or predicts heart disease and even diabetes. The headline is an attention-grabber, but the truth of the matter is a little more complex. While we don't know what the link is between oral health and heart disease, we do know that more than one scientific study has shown a correlation between the two, if not a direct causal relationship quite yet.
The Connection Between Oral Health and Heart Health
One of the recent breakthroughs in medicine is a better understanding of the body’s inflammatory process. Many doctors and scientists now believe that inflammation is the root cause of a number of diseases. As discussed above, we’re still uncertain about how oral health and heart disease are linked, but the current hypothesis is that it has to do with inflammation.
Poor oral health often leads to periodontitis, or gum disease. When you have gum disease, your gums are red, swollen, and painful––in other words, they are inflamed. Gum disease causes the body to be in a constant state of inflammation, which we now understand is a predictor of cardiovascular disease. Gum disease can also increase blood pressure to unhealthy levels, another condition that puts your heart health at risk.
A second way your dental health is linked to your cardiovascular health is that infections in the mouth can easily spread elsewhere in the body. Infection in the bloodstream that originated in the mouth can damage your heart valves and cause thickening of the carotid arteries.
The Connection Between Oral Health and Diabetes
Many patients are aware of the emerging evidence linking gum disease to heart disease, but did you know there’s also a link between diabetes and gum disease?
With diabetes, the bloodstream has high levels of glucose. Abnormally high glucose makes it harder for the body to fight off infection––which leaves you more susceptible to gum disease. Complicating matters even further, high glucose levels can cause oral bacteria to flourish. In short, with diabetes, you have both an increased amount of oral bacteria and less of an ability to fight it.
The good news is that treating gum disease with scaling and root planing can help improve blood sugar control in patients living with diabetes, slowing the progression of the disease.
The Bottom Line on Your Teeth and Your Overall Health
Can your teeth predict whether you will get heart disease or diabetes? No. They are one of many factors used to determine risk, but they are not the only factor. Having gum disease or tooth decay does not mean you have or will eventually develop cardiovascular issues or diabetes.
That said, examining your teeth and gums can give us an important glimpse into your overall health. Inflammation in the mouth may indicate inflammation elsewhere in the body; persistent problems with cavities and gum disease could be a sign of high blood glucose. This is why routine dental exams twice a year are important.
Make an Appointment to Check on Your Oral Health
The best thing you can do for your oral health is to make regular appointments for dental exams and cleanings. Contact us at 408-778-3135 to schedule a visit at our Morgan Hill office.