The Mouth As A Window To Our Health
Recent research has begun to mount linking the oral health to the rest of the body. Did you know that more than 90% of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms? Oral health means more than just an attractive smile. Poor oral health and untreated oral diseases and conditions can have a significant impact on quality of life. In many cases, the condition of the mouth is a direct sign of the condition of the body as a whole. This means that it is even more important to seek regular dental care as your dentist might the one to notice oral signs of systemic disease developing.
Systemic Disease With Associated Oral Symptoms
-Heart Disease/Stroke – Recent research has proven a link between periodontal disease and heart disease. The research results find that the bacteria present in periodontal disease does not just stay in the mouth but can move and travel throughout the body. It is believed that the bacteria moves from brushing, flossing, or eating and causes inflammation. The process of inflammation that affects the tissues in the mouth are what causes the heart disease issues. In periodontal disease, the body goes into an inflammatory state to rid the offending bacteria but in the process they are destroying good tissues and bone. When bacteria goes mobile and travels throughout the body, this bacteria can irritate the arteries which in turn will respond by creating arterial plaques. These plaques lead to decreased or blocked blood flow which in turn can cause a heart attack.
-Diabetes – Diabetic patients are unique in that their disease reduces the body’s ability to fight infection. This reduced ability can lead to an increased occurence of periodontal disease. Diabetic patients need to increase their at home dental hygiene as well as see their dentist more often to ensure they do not succumb to their disease. Diabetics may experience burning mouth syndrome and fungal infections, such as thrush and oral candidiasis. Dry mouth may also develop, causing an increased incidence of tooth decay. To prevent problems with bacterial infections in the mouth, your dentist may prescribe antibiotics, prescription mouth rinses, and more frequent dental cleanings.
-Gastrointestinal Diseases – These diseases include Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD). The oral cavity is the portal of entry to the GI tract. In the case of GERD it is not uncommon to see tooth enamel erosion from the acids in the stomach entering the mouth and for the other diseases, the presence of regular ulcers can be a sign of colitis or Crohn’s disease. Obviously these ulcers alone would not be a diagnosis for them in absence of other symptoms.
-Hematologic (Blood) Disorders - Mucosal conditions, such as glossitis, recurrent aphthae, candidal infections, and angular stomatitis may be more common in patients with anemia. Glossitis can be the first sign of a folate or vitamin B-12 deficiency. The tongue appears red, and the papillae produce a smooth appearance. Angular stomatitis is commonly caused by a candidal infection, and it has been linked to a deficiency in iron. If the anemia persists, a person may have decreased resistance to infection.
-Sjogren Syndrome – This disease predominantly affects women (9 women to 1 man) and primarily affects those over age 50. Oral changes can include difficulty in swallowing and eating, changes in taste and speech, increased tooth decay, and an increased chance of infection, all due to a decrease in saliva.
-HIV/AIDS – The oral symptoms include candidiasis (oral infection), Karposi’s sarcoma, increased herpes outbreaks, as well as human papilloma virus (HPV) infections.
The above list is by no means comprehensive, but it goes to show you how various diseases affecting different parts of the body can appear and affect the mouth. Scientific research continually furthers the evidence that the mouth is a window to your health. While your dentist may not be able to definitively diagnose any of the above diseases they can be an early communicator of the symptoms developing to give you a better chance of recovering from the effects of these diseases. Some believe that increased dental health and oral hygiene have led to an increased chance of autoimmunity to certain diseases and conditions.