How Your Oral Health Affects Your Overall Wellness

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Brushing, flossing, and regular visits to the dentist can protect you from far more than cavities.

 Medically Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS on April 29, 2011

When Joanne Maglares, now 50, visited her dentist for a broken tooth from chewing on ice, she had no inkling that her overall health was in jeopardy. A scholarship coordinator at a New York City high school and mother of four, she was so consumed with work and family that she often ignored her own well-being.

But her dentist took one look at her mouth, noticed multiple tooth fractures and rapidly advancing gum (periodontal) disease, and surmised that she had an underlying health problem.”Those were red flags that something was not right,” says her dentist, Maria Emanuel Ryan, DDS, PhD, professor of oral biology and pathology at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine.

Ryan urged Maglares to see her primary care doctor to get to the root of the problem. She was diagnosed and treated for high blood pressure and anemia. Five months later, she suffered a massive heart attack.

Oral Health, Overall Health

Researchers know there’s a synergic relationship between oral health and overall wellness. Gum disease is linked to a host of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. By combing through 1,000-plus medical histories, researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry found that people with gum disease were twice as likely as others to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to have a stroke.

Gum disease is the most common chronic inflammatory condition in the world, yet it’s often a silent disease, Ryan says. Why? The mouth can act as a portal of entry for an infection, says Salomon Amar, DMD, PhD, professor and director at the Center for Anti-inflammatory Therapeutics at Boston University School of Dental Medicine. Ongoing inflammation in your mouth can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which may lead to more inflammation in other parts of your body, such as the heart.

Some studies point to a reciprocal relationship between gum disease and diabetes.”When you treat and control diabetes, immediately the condition in the mouth improves. And when you treat periodontal disease, the need for insulin is reduced,” Amar says.

Maglares is on the road to recovery and indebted to her dentist. “If I hadn’t gone to the dentist, I don’t know if I’d be alive today. I pay a lot more attention to my teeth and gums. I believe it’s all connected.”

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