Oral Health & Your Overall Health

Care for your body by caring for your oral health.
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Oral health is a critical component of maintaining overall health and wellbeing. In fact, health should be thought of as a whole-body system with connections that may originate in the oral cavity and have distinct affects throughout the body. Therefore, it is imperative that both dental and medical providers work together to provide patients with more positive outcomes. Evidence based research is continually validating the oral-systemic link which focuses on the relationship of periodontal disease and its effect on chronic conditions and illnesses throughout the body. Recent research by the American Dental Association has shown two hundred possible connections between systemic diseases and oral health. Here are just a few:
  • Diabetes: One in every ten Virginians has diabetes.  Research has shown that diabetes and periodontal disease have a bi-directional relationship where patients with uncontrolled diabetes have higher risks of periodontal infections, and uncontrolled periodontal disease can affect glucose control. For dental visits it is important to know the HbA1C of the patient. An HbA1C above seven could be a sign that their diabetes is not controlled, indicating there may also be periodontal problems present. The medical team can refer to a dentist to help control any suspected periodontal disease.
  • Cardiovascular Disease: Several studies have begun linking chronic infection and inflammation to cardiovascular disease (CVD) with bacteria found in periodontal disease. Periodontal bacteria can enter the circulation, invading the heart and vascular tissue. This can lead to increased clotting and blockages, thicker carotid arteries and increase inflammatory mediators such as triglycerides and lipoproteins. Taking a patient's blood pressure at dental visits is an important and easy way to screen for CVD.
  • Pulmonary Disease: Not only can oral bacteria enter the circulatory system, but they can also be inhaled into the lungs causing respiratory infections. Patients with compromised pulmonary conditions such as COPD, emphysema, and asthma are at a higher risk of respiratory infections. The elderly are at a higher risk for respiratory problems and need a strict oral hygiene regiment. Denture wearers must be educated on how to keep their dentures clean. Pulmonary infections can be induced via bacteria attached to dentures. Denture wearing during sleep can cause oral microbiome colonization and increase the risk of aspiration of these colonized microbiomes into lungs in elderly patients that can double the risk of pneumonia. Oral hygiene practices can reduce the deaths by one in ten elderly residents from health care associated pneumonia.
Research continues to demonstrate the connection between oral health and overall health. Periodontal disease and medical conditions have a strong connection, not only with diabetes, CVD, and pulmonary conditions but also with pre-term pregnancies, increases in colon and pancreatic cancer, Alzheimer's syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis. Interprofessional collaboration is needed to treat these conditions and the many others. It is critical for the medical and dental field to work together to better the health of their patients.

Article provided by the Virginia Dental Hygienist Association, a chartered affiliate of the American Dental Hygienists' Association, the larges professional organization for dental hygienists, and working to improve the public's total health and advance the science and practice of dental hygiene. References available upon request.


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