Published 10 Aug 2023
This Dental Health Week Healthier Together spoke to GMHBA Dental Care Dentist Dr Shilpa Dhawan about the links between our mind, body and our mouth and learnt just how much of an impact good oral health can have on our whole being.
What are the links between our mind, body and mouth?
The mouth is the gateway to the body. A disease that starts with our teeth or gums can have profound effects on our body, mind, and quality of life. Despite this, we continue to separate dental health from general health, including mental and psychosocial health. Poor dental health can impact things like self-esteem and emotional health and confidence. This can lead to a decline in overall well-being and have a severe impact on our daily lives.
How can bacteria in our mouth impact our body?
If your teeth and gums have inflammation, bacteria, or decay, that bacteria travels to the bloodstream where it can impact other parts of the body like your heart, lungs, and brain.
Taking care of your oral health helps prevent bacteria and inflammation from travelling from your mouth and gums to other parts of your body causing disease.
What is inflammation?
When an injury or wound is red, swells up or hurts, it may be a sign of inflammation. Inflammation and swelling are the body’s immune system response to an irritant. An irritant might be a germ or a foreign object.
What conditions can be impacted by our oral health?
It’s no small claim that poor dental care can have severe impacts on our oral health. There are strong links between the following conditions and oral health impacts:
There is a link between gum disease and heart disease. Bacteria in the mouth can narrow blood vessels and increase the risk of heart attack.
People with gum disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or another cardiovascular event.
Gum disease begins when the sticky, bacteria-laden film dentists refer to as plaque builds around the teeth. Many people with heart disease have healthy gums, and not everyone with gum disease develops heart problems. However, daily teethbrushing and flossing can prevent and even reverse an early stage of gum disease known as gingivitis.
Practising good oral hygiene, brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once daily is very important for patients at risk of endocarditis.
People with diabetes may not realise that when you treat your diabetes effectively, gum disease improves. Likewise, when you improve your periodontal disease, more commonly known as gum disease, your need for insulin decreases.
One study in 2021 found that if you have gum disease, your risk for diabetes increases by 26% and if you have diabetes, your risk of gum disease increases by 24%.
Ongoing high blood sugar levels can contribute to gum disease getting worse. If you develop gum disease, your gums become inflamed. Inflammation in the body can lead to higher levels of blood sugar which can contribute to a higher risk of diabetes. This is why diabetes care and dental care go hand in hand.
High levels of sugar in blood affects the healing of the gums, the body’s immunity, and hence its fighting mechanism against bacteria or inflammation.
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that leads to a reduction in memory, reasoning, cognition, communication skills, along with psychological and behavioural symptoms such as depression and aggression. Maintaining oral health for these patients can be very challenging.
Ensuring regular dental examinations, it is possible to avoid extensive dental treatments in dementia patients. Forgetting to brush teeth or being unable to do that are both risk factors that lead to poor oral hygiene. Studies have found that poor saliva flow in patients with Alzheimer’s disease can lead to greater plaque accumulation, caries, periodontal inflammation, and halitosis (bad breath).
There is growing interest in the link between dementia in elderly individuals and tooth loss. Tooth loss is an indicator of poor oral health and can lead to poor chewing function, which in turn affects nutrition intake and brain functioning, leading to a worsening of dementia.
Regular oral hygiene care for these patients is of the utmost importance, and dental check-ups every six months are crucial for these patients.
Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes
Research from the University of Sydney has found that pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have a pre-term birth or low birth weight baby. Pregnant women who take care of their mouth by having cavities filled and by brushing and flossing regularly are less likely to pass on cavity causing bacteria to their babies.
Teeth and gums are a reservoir for germs that can travel down to the lungs and harm them. Gum disease can worsen asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Inflammation in the airways is one factor that leads to more frequent symptoms and lung damage. Some medications used to treat lung disease can have damaging dental side effects, such as dry mouth. Having a dry mouth can make it easier to get cavities and gum disease.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
There is a significant association between Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and dental decay and other dental infections like periodontitis (gum disease). A 2021 study shows that patients with IBD have more periodontitis and fewer teeth compared to people without IBD. This is either related to changes in the immune system because of IBD or to diet.
There may also be a link between taking steroid-based medications, which are often used to treat flares of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and a weakening of the teeth.
Many people with IBD struggle to find foods that they can stomach. This may cause them to opt for a high sugar diet or foods with lower essential nutrients, with both choices impacting teeth health. Some people with IBD suffer from stomach acid coming up into their mouths. This acid causes extreme damage to teeth by washing away the protective outer layer of teeth known as enamel.
Is it normal to lose teeth as we age?
Loose teeth or teeth loss are not inevitable side effects of aging. Knowing how and why teeth can become loose and unstable can help you avoid the problem and the tooth loss it can cause. There are five common causes of loose teeth as you age: -
- Gum disease – Inflammation in the gums and the bone around the teeth
- Teeth grinding or clenching – wear and tear in the teeth
- Trauma – Habitual chewing on ice, pens, pencils, nail biting etc.
- Diseases and health conditions like HIV, cancer, diabetes, and various medications involved.
How often should I visit the dentist for a check-up?
For most people a minimum six monthly check-up is recommended.
What can I expect at a check-up?
During a dental check-up, you can expect a thorough examination of your oral health. The specific procedures may vary depending on your individual needs.
A comprehensive dental check-up may involve:
- An x-ray of your teeth. X-rays can highlight spots in your teeth that may require attention
- A review of your current oral health status to use as a marker for future visits
- Oral hygiene education tailored to your needs
- Any personal treatment recommendations
What else can I do to protect my mind, body and mouth?
Taking care of your mind, body, and mouth is an ongoing process. By adopting healthy habits and seeking regular professional care, you can contribute to your overall well-being.
Practice stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to reduce stress levels. Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
Avoid using tobacco products, as they increase the risk of oral health problems. Be aware of any changes in your oral health, such as bleeding gums, persistent bad breath, or mouth sores, and promptly consult your dentist if you notice any concerns.
Dr Shilpa Dhawan is a dentist at GMHBA Dental Care Geelong. With experience in managing general dentistry procedures and diagnosis she is a compassionate dentist focused on prevention. There are GMHBA Dental Care practices located in Geelong, Belmont and Portland.