Every new year, people all around the world come up with New Year’s resolution(s). I looked up what the top 10 resolutions are, and about half relate to improving one’s health — exercise more, diet/lose weight, eat healthier, lessen stress, quit smoking, etc. However, nowhere in my search could I find “improve oral health.” Maybe it’s because we tend to forget how our oral health ties in to our overall health.
The phrases “healthy mouth, healthy you” and “your mouth is the gateway to your body” are, in fact, true. Many systemic conditions such as AIDS, Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes and nutritional deficiencies first become apparent as oral lesions or problems. Saliva can also be used to detect stress responses in newborn children, female hormone levels, osteoporosis/bone loss and certain cancers.
These are just a few ways that salivary tests are used. Saliva can help protect against many disease-causing bacteria; however, when the amount of bacteria becomes too numerous, it can start infecting both the mouth and the body. Plaque, the sticky deposit on teeth, is loaded with bacteria. The more plaque you have, the more bacteria you have. High levels of bacteria will eventually cause chronic inflammation of the gums, which in turn leads to periodontal disease (gum disease). The following are just a few ways gum disease can affect your health:
Diabetes may make you more prone to developing gum disease, and chronic gum disease may make controlling blood sugar levels difficult. This is why controlling your diabetes and preventing/stabilizing gum disease is extremely important. Many insurance companies will cover an extra cleaning each year for diabetics.
Oral inflammation can also play a role in an increased risk of clogged arteries, blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. The more severe the infection, the greater the risk.
Pregnant women with severe gum disease have an increased risk of preterm delivery and giving birth to low birth-weight infants. Many insurance companies now allow pregnant women to receive an extra cleaning during their pregnancy.
New research is finding that those with periodontal disease also have a higher risk of contracting respiratory infections such as pneumonia, acute bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This occurs when the bacteria from the mouth travel down the upper throat and are inhaled into the respiratory tract.
As you can see, taking good care of your mouth can improve your overall health. So, as you reflect on your New Year’s resolution(s) — and it’s not too late to make one — you might want to consider adding “improve oral health” to your list. Wishing you and your family a blessed New Year!
Dr. Sonia Tao-Yi is one of the owners of City Center Dental Care. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley, followed by dental school at the University of Detroit-Mercy. She can be reached at 757-873-3001 or on the practice’s website at
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