As medical science continues to expand, our view of patient care is becoming more comprehensive. Clinicians in both medicine and dentistry are increasingly aware that patients are best served when there is a partnership between the doctor and the patient, and the doctor seeks to treat the whole person rather than an isolated disease condition.
Rather than viewing the mouth as an isolated region with a specific disease that only dentists care about, dentists and doctors are beginning to appreciate the mouth as the important beginning of the entire digestive tract. Furthermore, the mouth can offer significant clues to your overall health. A healthy mouth is host to a balanced array of 700 species of aerobic and anaerobic organisms. We swallow one trillion bacteria every day helping to populate the remainder of the digestive tract with the appropriate constellation of microbes. A healthy mouth and a healthy digestive tract are critical to overall wellbeing.
In an unhealthy mouth, overgrowth of harmful bacteria around the teeth leads to infection and inflammation. Over time inflammation, and the chemicals associated with inflammation, can lead to loss of the jaw bone surrounding the teeth. Harmful bacteria may also seed other areas of the body. Inflammation and its byproducts may contribute to other systemic conditions triggered by inflammation.
Periodontitis, or inflammation of the gingival tissue or gums, has been association with a variety of chronic conditions such as:
- Hypertension and Cardiovascular disease
- Pre-term, low birth weight babies
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Prostate cancer
- Rheumatoid arthritis
These associations have been established over the last several years and now the medical research community is turning its attention toward working out the nature of the relationship between oral disease and these other conditions. Is one a causal factor in the other? Or is it a matter of shared risk factors? Establishing these relationships will almost certainly occupy legions of scientists for years to come. In the meantime what can you do to ensure your oral health?
- Brush your teeth efficiently* at least twice a day
- Floss your teeth efficiently* at least once a day
- Have your teeth regularly cleaned by a professional
- Choose a plant-based, low-sugar diet
Remember, the care you take of your teeth, gums, and oral cavity will radiate health to the rest of your body!
*Efficient tooth brushing and flossing should each take 2-4 minutes to complete.