All of your body’s systems are interconnected and dependent on each other. Problems with your brain can affect the way you walk and talk. Problems with your ears can affect your balance. Since your mouth is an entry point to your internal organs, problems with your mouth can lead to problems with your heart and lungs, as well as contribute to various diseases and conditions.
Staying healthy in normal times can be hard enough. Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic can be even harder. With shelter-in-place orders, many are getting less exercise and worrying more than eating right or brushing our teeth. To help improve your overall health, you want to want start with improving your oral health.
How dental health affects overall health
According to the Mayo Clinic1, problems in your mouth can have a profound effect on other parts of your body. The mouth is the entry way to the digestive tract. Digestion begins with chewing food, with saliva breaking it down so the food can be swallowed. Bacteria living on your teeth and gums can attach to food as it passes into the stomach. The mouth also leads to the respiratory system. When you breathe in, air enters the lungs bringing with it air-borne bacteria.
Most of the 700 types2 of bacteria found in your mouth are harmless, but some are the type that cause tooth decay or gum disease. If left to multiply and grow, those same bacteria can cause redness and swelling—typical signs of inflammation and infection. When that happens, the bacteria can enter the body and take up residence in the heart and lungs. Diseases such as endocarditis, heart disease, pneumonia and birthing complications have been linked to oral infections.
Some bacteria are neutralized in the mouth by saliva. When medications or certain diseases interrupt the saliva flow, the resulting dry mouth allows more bacteria to thrive. This increases the danger of systemic diseases occurring.3
Certain diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, lower the body’s resistance to infections. Patients with these conditions suffer more oral diseases since they are unable to naturally fight off inflammation.4
Patients with osteoporosis are likely to suffer from bone loss around the teeth leading to early tooth loss. Some studies have shown that oral health degenerates in patients with Alzheimer’s. Patients who smoke are also at much higher risk of developing certain diseases associated with oral inflammation.5
How can I improve my oral health during this pandemic?
Daily habits like brushing and flossing can help protect your teeth. This is still true during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the American Dental Association calling on dentists across the United States to postpone elective procedures and all non-urgent dental services until further notice6, it is important to take care of your teeth and gums.
Protecting your oral health
Good dental health can help you eat, speak and smile. It affects our self-esteem, our children’s school performance, and our own ability to show up for work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 40% of adults have had a toothache in the past year and that 34 million school hours are missed each year due to illnesses related to dental diseases.7
Although we do not know with certainty that diseases such as heart disease and diabetes have a direct link to oral health, much evidence points to that conclusion.8 Whether scientists prove a direct link or not, it is clear that having a healthy mouth, not smoking and visiting a dentist for regular cleanings and exams can help you stay healthy.
If you have a dental or health emergency, contact your dentist or doctor. Emergency dental care is often covered as a part of most dental insurance plans.
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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.