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Healthy mouth, healthy body

The mouth is a window into the health of the body. It can show signs of nutritional deficiencies or general infection. For example, systemic diseases—those that affect the entire body, such as diabetes, AIDS and Sjögren’s syndrome—may first become apparent because of mouth lesions or other oral problems.

The mouth is filled with countless bacteria, some linked to tooth decay and periodontal disease. Researchers have found that periodontitis (the advanced form of periodontal disease that can cause tooth loss) is linked with other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia. Likewise, pregnant women with periodontitis may be at increased risk of delivering preterm and/or low-birth-weight infants.

More studies are needed, but some researchers suspect that bacteria and inflammation linked to periodontitis play a role in some systemic diseases or conditions. Likewise, diseases such as diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV infections and AIDS can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making periodontal diseases more severe.

Several studies link chronic inflammation from periodontitis with the development of cardiovascular problems. Some evidence suggests that oral bacteria may be linked to heart disease, arterial blockages and stroke.

People with diabetes often have periodontal disease. In addition, there is evidence that people with diabetes are more likely to develop and have more severe periodontitis than those without diabetes. Some studies suggest that periodontitis can make it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar.

Although periodontitis may contribute to these health conditions, it’s important to understand that just because two conditions occur at the same time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one condition causes the other. That’s why researchers are examining what happens when periodontitis is treated in people with these various health problems.

Given the potential link between periodontitis and systemic health problems, prevention may be an important step in maintaining overall health:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly twice a day. Clean between your teeth with floss or another type of interdental cleaner once a day.
  • Eat a balanced diet and limit snacks, which may reduce your risk of developing tooth decay and periodontal disease.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups. Professional cleanings are the only way to remove calculus (tartar), which traps plaque bacteria along the gum line. Tell your dentist about changes in your overall health, particularly any recent illnesses or chronic conditions.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

05/08/2006

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