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Oral Health - A Window to Your Overall Health

10-15-2018

True or false: Taking care of your teeth and gums can help you live a longer, healthier life?

It may surprise you, but that’s true. Good dental health can reduce your risk of life-threatening diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It could even help ensure a safer pregnancy.

A normal healthy mouth is full of bacteria. The body’s natural defenses combined with brushing and flossing are usually enough to keep mouth bacteria in balance. However, without good oral hygiene, harmful bacteria can get out of control.

Medications like decongestants and antihistamines can also threaten good dental health by reducing the flow of saliva. Without enough saliva to wash away food particles and neutralize acids produced by oral bacteria, your mouth is at higher risk for tooth decay, gum disease, and infections.

An overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the mouth causes periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease. Researchers believe that when you have periodontitis, your body’s immune system goes into overdrive to fight the infection. At the same time, your immune system releases a byproduct that further damages gum tissue and the bones that support the teeth.

Evidence also suggests that these mouth bacteria, along with the chemicals generated by the immune system, can travel to other parts of our bodies, contributing to illnesses and chronic diseases such as:

• Cardiovascular disease - Researchers believe that inflammation in the mouth increases inflammation in the blood vessels. Inflamed blood vessels allow less blood to travel between the heart and the rest of the body, raising blood pressure and putting you at higher risk for heart attack or stroke.

• Endocarditis - An infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium), endocarditis occurs when bacteria from your mouth or another part of your body travels through your bloodstream and attaches itself to damaged areas in your heart.

• Diabetes - People with diabetes have difficulty processing sugar due to a lack of insulin, a hormone that converts sugar into energy. Bacteria-related inflammation in the mouth can make it even harder for the insulin in your body to do its job, making diabetes even more difficult to manage.

• Premature birth and low birth weight.

• Osteoporosis, eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, head and neck cancers, and Sjogren's syndrome (an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth.)

“It’s very clear that our oral health and our overall health are closely linked,” said Dr. Morgan Baker, Medical Director for Monocacy Health Partners Dental Clinic. “We still need more research to determine exactly how strong the links are between oral health and other diseases, but we are very sure that disease and inflammation affect one another.”

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen a dentist, make an appointment today. Think of it this way. The next time you visit your dentist, you won’t just be getting your teeth cleaned or getting a filling. You’ll be taking an important step towards better health for your whole body.

The MHP Dental Clinic provides emergency and preventive care to adult residents of Frederick County who are uninsured, under-insured, or have limited means to pay for Dental Services. Maryland Medicaid, vouchers from the Religious Coalition and the Seton Center, and self-pay patients are seen by appointment only. Fees are based on a sliding scale. Call 240-566-7005 to learn more or click here.



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