You work out, you eat right, but what about your smile? A healthy mouth is just as important to your overall health as fitness and nutrition. In other words, your mouth health has a direct impact on the rest of your body.
So, what does this oral health and overall health connection look like? As children, we learn early on how diet and exercise help with our wellness so we’re familiar with those connections. So it’s understandable that the mouth-body connection isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind in your overall wellness.
At Shoreline Dental Studio, we want to help our patients understand this link. Dr. Kristin Ritzau, Dr. Colby Livingston, and Dr. Shahira Saad consider patients like family — our clinical expertise helps our patients achieve their best smiles and best selves. So let’s start by diving into what you need to know about the link between oral health and physical wellness.
We’ll talk about:
- How your mouth indicates nutrition and illnesses
- How oral health affects overall health
- What is gum disease
- How gum disease causes other health issues
- Managing gum disease
- How you can improve oral and gum health
How your mouth indicates nutrition and illnesses
For starters, you might be surprised to know that the mouth is a window into your general health. What your mouth looks like or how it smells can indicate imbalance or illness in your body. A few of the most common health concerns you can see by looking into your mouth include:
Diabetes – Increased swelling, bleeding or sensitivity of your gums can indicate a sugar imbalance in your body like diabetes. Your saliva might have a different consistency than usual or you might have increased tooth decay when you’re usually cavity-free.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies – A lack of vitamins and minerals in your body can result in swollen, sensitive, or bleeding gums, weak tooth enamel, or even gum disease. It can delay healing in your mouth and contribute to increased infections.
A deficiency in vitamins and minerals can also cause oral conditions like burning tongue/mouth syndrome where you have a burning or scalding sensation in your mouth. Some also feel it in the lips, throat, palate, or gums.
An iron deficiency can show up as sores in the corners of your mouth or changes in your tongue. Or the small papillae — the taste buds — can fall off, leaving your tongue glossy and smooth.
Dehydration – Did you know that your body is made up of 50-70% water? So if you’re dehydrated, you might notice you have a dry mouth or a little less saliva than usual. When your body doesn’t have enough water, it starts to conserve fluid for the functioning of your vital organs. This can dry out the rest of your body — like your mouth environment and your skin.
Another sign you’re not drinking enough water? Smelly breath! A dry mouth means you don’t have enough saliva to wash away food debris and bacteria that can turn into plaque. You also need saliva to keep your mouth at a base pH level so that bad bacteria is less likely to multiply.
Other systemic illnesses – The inside of your mouth can also indicate health issues such as HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis, and Sjögren’s syndrome. Oral lesions are a sign of HIV/AIDS, while periodontal bone or tooth loss can indicate osteoporosis in other parts of your body. And dry mouth is a common symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder that often happens alongside rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
How oral health affects overall health
So we’ve talked about your oral health as an indicator of what’s happening in your body. Now let’s cover how the health of your mouth can directly affect your physical health.
Studies show that there is a link between the bad bacteria in your mouth and illnesses in the rest of your body. Did you know that excessive bacteria from your mouth can travel into your bloodstream and into various parts of your body? And as the entry point for the digestive and respiratory systems, it’s possible for your mouth to introduce bacteria into those systems and contribute to illnesses there too.
What is Gum Disease?
In severe cases, bad oral bacteria can turn into gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease. So what is gum disease? Simply put, gum disease is an infection in the gums and happens when excessive oral bacteria builds up, becomes a sticky film on teeth called plaque, then hardens into tartar. Tartar then becomes a breeding ground for more bacteria which invites toxins into the gums.
Around the base of each tooth is a ring of gum tissue that forms a small pocket for the tooth about 2-3mm deep. If tartar builds up there and is left untreated, the gums around your teeth can become inflamed from trying to fight off toxins and bacteria.
If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms of gum disease, make an appointment right away to see your Shoreline Dental Studio dentist. The main symptoms of gum disease include:
- Persistent bad breath
- Red, swollen or sore gums
- Bleeding gums (also called gingivitis)
- Painful chewing
- Loose teeth
- Losing teeth (in severe cases called periodontitis)
- Sensitive teeth
- Receding gums or teeth that look longer
So how can gum disease cause other health issues?
At this point, more research is needed to show if gum disease is the direct cause of certain health issues. But what we do know for sure is that gum disease and periodontitis are linked to several illnesses and do play a role: These illnesses include:
Endocarditis – This is an infection that happens in the inner lining of the heart’s chambers or valves, technically known as the endocardium. Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or germs from your mouth or other parts of the body spreads through your bloodstream, then attach to areas in your heart.
Cardiovascular disease – Experts say that more research is needed to fully understand the connection between cardiovascular disease and oral health. But existing research suggests there is indeed a link between oral bacteria and heart disease, clogged arteries, and strokes.
Pregnancy and birth issues – Gum disease, or periodontitis, has been linked to premature births and low birth weights. If a mother-to-be has too much bad bacteria in her mouth, that bacteria can pass into her bloodstream to the uterus, triggering the production of prostaglandins and inducing premature labor.
Respiratory illnesses – Bacteria in your mouth can travel into your lungs — inhaled or carried by droplets of saliva. Typically, healthy lungs can fight off unwanted bacteria but compromised lungs are more susceptible. Respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, asthma, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can result.
Managing Gum Disease
Because gum disease currently doesn’t have a cure, addressing it is all about managing it so it doesn’t get worse. If Dr. Ritzau or any of our other providers diagnoses you with gum disease, periodontal therapy can help improve your gum health — and your health overall.
Periodontal therapy at Shoreline Dental Studio starts with a comprehensive and personalized plan designed by your dentist. Our goal is to work together with you to prevent your gum disease from becoming worse and to build healthier teeth and gums.
Typically, your periodontal therapy plan starts with a few appointments at our San Clemente or Mission Viejo office with our hygiene team for deep cleaning. For these cleanings, we suggest taking advantage of our sedation options and Comfort Menu to ensure a comfortable and stress-free experience.
At-home care is the second key part of managing gum disease and your Shoreline dentist will create a home-care plan focused on keeping tartar at bay and restoring gum health. We might suggest cleaning tools for your daily oral hygiene routines like an electric toothbrush, Waterpik, or oral rinse to make sure you’re getting the deep clean you need every day. Food for thought: one studyshowed that brushing with an electric toothbrush resulted in 18% less tooth decay than brushing with a manual toothbrush. Every bit of cleaning power counts when you have gum disease.
Your personalized periodontal therapy plan might also include a schedule of 2-4 cleanings and checkups throughout the year, or a visit to a periodontist if your gum disease isn’t responding to professional cleaning and at-home maintenance.
How you can improve oral and gum health
Good Oral Care
So the big question is, how can you improve your oral health to prevent gum disease in the first place? An effective and preventative oral hygiene routine is the best place to start for a healthy, happy mouth.
It goes without saying that brushing well twice a day and flossing daily is the gold standard when it comes to healthy teeth and gums. We suggest adding a bacteria-fighting mouthwash to your oral care routine for extra help in maintaining periodontal health. Our team is happy to provide additional tips for good oral care if you’re unsure about what would work best for you.
Visit the Dentist for Cleanings Twice A Year
Be sure to also schedule your twice-yearly dental checkups with us at Shoreline Dental Studio. Not only does visiting our relaxing San Clemente or Mission Viejo office feel like a nice pause out of your day, regular cleanings include removing the tartar that could lead to gum disease. Thankfully, tartar is easily treatable by a professional dental cleaning.
Eating Food for Healthy Teeth and Gums
A third key for how to improve gum health is eating right. And it’s pretty easy to find all the healthy foods you need in Orange County! A good rule of thumb is that if it’s good for your overall health, it’s good for your smile — and vice versa. Eat foods rich in vitamins A, K, C, and minerals like calcium, potassium, and phosphorus for maintaining strong teeth and gums. And consider these suggestions for teeth-friendly eating habits:
- Eating meals at regular intervals instead of snacking all-day
- Drinking lots of water
- Choosing lots of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains
- Eating balanced portions of protein and healthy fats
- Minimizing sugar intakes like candy, soda, and baked treats
- Choosing foods with sugar substitutes like xylitol, which doesn’t break down into teeth-damaging bacteria
Caring for You and Your Smile
Understanding the link between your oral and physical health is important for putting your best foot forward and at Shoreline Dental Studio, we help you look after your oral health so you can be your best self.
Contact us today to begin a journey of improved oral health with your Orange County dental experts. We cover all your family’s dental care needs and care about you.