Your mouth is more than just where you put your food — it’s a also a gateway to your body’s health.
The evidence is piling up. Oral health has been linked to everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s to diabetes to stroke to arthritis to low birth weight.
But which causes which?
A link between cardiovascular health and periodontal disease was discovered in the early 2000s. And even though that link is not yet fully understood, in the past three years, cardiologists’ offices have begun to offer oral care pamphlets to their waiting patients.
“The risk factors for gingivitis are risk factors for heart disease,” says Dr. Gopinath Upamaka, a ProMedica cardiologist in Toledo, Ohio. He cites poor bone health and infection (usually as a result of poor diet) as key factors in both conditions.
“Is it a matter of coincidence or does one cause the other?” wonders Dr. Upamaka. “That is where the debate is going. But for sure the following is certain: If you have gingivitis, you have double the risk of heart disease than someone who does not.”
Further evidence for the connection is the fact that people who are healthy in one aspect of their lives generally tend to be healthy in other aspects of their lives. Are these people genetically predisposed to good health? Or might not the coincidence be better explained by an oral-health/overall-health connection?
Regardless of the quality of your at-home care regimen or of how good your teeth “feel”, seeing a dentist on a regular basis is essential to your oral health and, presumably, your overall health as well. Jayne Klett, of the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio, says “Periodontal disease is silent; a dental hygienist and dentist can help with that evaluation. You don’t know until you have it checked.”
Klett also advises that our at-home care may not always be as good as we think it is, noting that not nearly enough people follow their dentist’s advice about brushing for a full two minutes.
“I think the average American brushes from 15 to 20 seconds,” says Klett.