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Orally Speaking

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Your oral health requires a lot more attention than it receives. Pooja Salvi & Sara Shah tell you about how the condition of your teeth and gums can affect your general wellbeing

Did you know that your oral health offers clues about your overall wellbeing? Seemingly inconsequential mouth problems can have certain affects on the rest of your body. Understanding the close connection between oral and overall health is often something that we overlook. Find out what your oral health tells you about your wellbeing.

What is the connection between oral health and overall health?
Like many areas of your body, your mouth is teeming with bacteria, mostly harmless types. Normally, the body’s natural defences and a good oral health routine, which includes daily brushing and flossing, can keep the bacteria in your mouth under control. However, without proper oral care, bacteria can dwell and multiply to levels that lead to oral infections such as tooth decay and gum disease. Additionally, certain medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and diuretics can reduce saliva flow. Saliva washes away food and neutralises the effect of acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth, helping you to protect your mouth from microbial invasion or overgrowth that can lead to a number of other diseases. Studies also suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis (a severe form of gum disease) might play a role in contributing to other diseases. Also, certain diseases such as diabetes and HIV and AIDS, can lower the body’s resistance to infection, making oral health problems more severe.

Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions including the following.

Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart, which is called the endocardium. Endocarditis occurs when bacteria or other germs enter your bloodstream from your mouth, spread rapidly and attach themselves to damaged areas in your heart. The disease is uncommon in people with  healthy hearts. People with a damaged and artificial heart  valve or other heart defects are at a greater risk of endocarditis.

Diabetes reduces your body’s resistance to infection and so, puts your gums at a risk. Elevated blood sugars increase the risk of developing gum diseases, which can make it tough to keep blood sugar levels in check. Gum diseases appear to be more frequent and a severe condition among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum diseases have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels. Protect your gums by keeping your blood sugar levels as balanced as possible.

Tooth decay
People suffering from Sjögren’s syndrome are more likely to have oral health problems. Sjögren’s syndrome often accompanies other immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus (for more information on lupus, read our page 19 article). When one suffers from Sjögren’s syndrome, the mucous membranes and moisture-secreting glands in their eyes and mouth are usually affected first — resulting in a decreased production of tears and saliva, which leads to chronically dry eyes and a dry mouth (called xerostomia). Saliva helps protect teeth and gums from bacteria that cause cavities and gingivitis. So, a perpetually dry mouth is more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease.

Dry mouth
Now that we just mentioned that dry mouth ups your risk of cavities and gum disease, you may want to check your medicine cabinet. Antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers and antidepressants are among the many drugs that can lead to xerostomia. Talk to your doctor or dentist to find out if your medication is affecting your oral health, and what you can do about it.

Teeth grinding and stress
If you are stressed, anxious or depressed, you are at a higher risk of suffering from oral health problems. People under high levels of stress increasingly produce high levels of the hormone cortisol. An increase in the production of this hormone wreaks havoc on your gums and your body. Stress also leads to poor oral care; more than 50% of people don’t brush or floss regularly when stressed. Other stress-related habits include smoking, drinking alcohol and clenching and grinding teeth (called bruxism).

Osteoporosis is one of the most common bone conditions that affect people as they grow older. The brittle bone disease not only affects your knees or the bones in your legs, it also affects other bones in your body including your jaw bone, which in turn causes tooth loss. Since the disease is linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss, bacteria from periodontitis (a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth) can also break down the jaw bone.

Bleeding gums and hormonal imbalances
How can this be relevant, you ask? Well, your gum tissue also contains embedded hormone receptors, which is also one of the main reasons why some women experience bleeding gums during pregnancy. Some women who are nearing menopause may also experience bleeding gums due to the hormonal imbalance in their bodies, and along with this, women who are menstruating may also feel some sensitivity in their gums.

HIV and thrush
People suffering from HIV or AIDS have the possibility of developing oral thrush, warts, fever blisters and canker sores in their mouth along with hairy leukoplakia, which is indicated by white or gray patches on the tongue and inside the cheek. Both the deadly diseases, HIV and AIDS, weaken your immune system leaving your body unable to stave off infections. You may also develop dry mouth, which will up your risk of tooth decay, making it difficult for you to eat, swallow and talk.

Metallic taste
Antihistamines, antibiotics and a few other heart medications often come with side effects such as causing you to taste metal in your mouth. This can also be a symptom of gum disease or a zinc deficiency. Vegetarians are at a higher risk of zinc deficiency compared to non-vegetarians, since zinc is mostly found in meat. Common vegetarian sources of the mineral are cereals, legumes, spinach and pumpkin seeds.

Canker sores and gluten intolerance
Canker sores can ideally be the result of a gluten intolerance or a zinc mineral deficiency. In case of this, your doctor may prescribe a zinc supplement; and if that doesn’t work, then you will need to get it checked by a gastro doctor who will test you for celiac disease.

Stomach issues
Sometimes, people complain of bad breath despite having an impeccable oral hygiene. Well, it could be a sign of stomach issues. A bacterial overgrowth in the stomach can result in bad breath, and technically this isn’t even oral related. Bad breath is also a common sign of diabetes which isn’t under control or liver and kidney problems. If your dentist gives an all clear, get checked for these problems.

Gastroesphogeal Reflux Disease (GERD)
While we did say that cracked, crumbling teeth could be a sign of stress or teeth grinding, it can also be a sign of GERD. GERD is a disease where the stomach acids rise up through your oesophagus and enter your mouth. When this happens, the acid and low pH levels erode the enamel of the teeth and cause them to crack or break.

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