The Mouth-Body Connection
Certain conditions can have direct negative effects on the oral cavity — including unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and harmful alcohol use. Oral diseases share common risk factors with the four leading chronic diseases:
Poor oral hygiene is also a risk factor
- cardiovascular diseases
- chronic respiratory diseases
Diabetes, especially, has oral health implications. It can lead to changes in the oral cavity. Poor glycemic (blood sugar level) control in diabetics is associated with gingivitis and more severe periodontal diseases (gum disease). Oral signs and symptoms of diabetes can also include a neurosensory disorder known as burning mouth syndrome, taste disorders, abnormal wound healing, and fungal infections. Individuals with diabetes may notice a fruity (acetone) breath or frequent dry mouth, which can also lead to a marked increase in dental decay. Diabetes can weaken the body’s resistance to infections, and high blood glucose levels in saliva can help bacteria to thrive. Therefore, uncontrolled diabetes and uncontrolled gum disease enhance one another. Diabetics have about twice the risk for periodontal disease as healthy patients, and almost one-third of people with diabetes have severe periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease (gum disease) has been identified as a risk factor for such conditions as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, perhaps through a pathway of increased systemic inflammation. Not many people are aware of recent research that associates heart disease (and even strokes) with poor oral hygiene. A lax regime in oral care leaves the blood low in Lipoproteins, research shows that this disorder is a leading factor in hardening of the arteries. Bad oral hygiene kills off the good part of lipoproteins (HDL & LDL) which carry proteins from one organ to another. If the proteins aren’t absorbed by the organs then the organ will experience problems -- this leads to many of the diseases, which together, can cause a heart attack. All this can be prevented by spending a little more time on brushing, flossing and making sure that our gums are healthier.
Scientists have found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be taken into the lungs to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. This is true especially in people with periodontal disease. This discovery leads researchers to believe that these respiratory bacteria can travel from the oral cavity into the lungs to cause infection. Bacterial respiratory infections are thought to be acquired through aspiration (inhaling) of fine droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. These droplets contain germs that can breed and multiply within the lungs to cause damage. Recent research suggests that bacteria found in the throat, as well as bacteria found in the mouth, can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract. This can cause infections or worsen existing lung conditions. People with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), typically suffer from reduced protective systems, making it difficult to eliminate bacteria from the lungs.
Oral and pharyngeal (area that connects the nose and mouth) cancer is the sixth most common cancer reported worldwide and has one of the highest death rates. There are over 400,000 new cases reported in the world annually. 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer each year.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation are more prone to:
- dry mouth
- inflammation of the mouth tissue
- changes in taste
- impaired ability to eat, taste and speak
- abnormal dental development
- poor nutrition
- oral bleeding