Most people know that diet and exercise play a big part in maintaining physical health. They might see oral health as a completely separate affair, but researchers have found that a healthy mouth is connected to a healthy body.
While good dental hygiene has the benefits of preventing bad breath and problems like tooth decay and gum disease, it also decreases the risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes, and preterm labor.
The mouth can be a very helpful vantage point for showing early signs and symptoms of systemic disease (a disease that affects the entire body, rather than just one part). For example, AIDS or diabetes often first show their presence as mouth lesions or other oral problems. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90% of all systemic diseases present oral signs and symptoms. Saliva can be a helpful diagnostic tool. A simple swab can show stress levels or be used to monitor bone loss. Certain cancer markers can also be detected through saliva.
Accumulation of dental plaque can often lead to the formation of cavities, but the bacteria that live in dental plaque can also cause health problems. Most commonly, a buildup of plaque along the gum line can lead to a gum infection known as gingivitis. Left untreated, gingivitis can lead to periodontitis (gum disease) and eventually even tooth loss. The bacteria from your mouth can also possibly (though not normally) enter the bloodstream. This is more likely if you are taking medications or undergoing treatment that reduces saliva flow or disrupts the normal balance of bacteria. For people with a healthy immune system, any oral bacteria that gets into the bloodstream is quickly dispensed with through the immune system. However, individuals with weakened immune systems can develop an infection in another part of the body.
To prevent any potential issues from occurring, it’s recommended to maintain good oral care habits, namely daily brushing and flossing and regular visits to the dentist.