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Oral Health and Chronic Disease

We know that maintaining our oral health is good for our mouths. But did you know that it’s important to your overall health, too? A number of chronic diseases and conditions have been linked to poor oral health. That’s why taking good care of your mouth is so important.

Path to improved health

Oral health and chronic disease are a 2-way street. Some chronic diseases can cause problems in your mouth. Likewise, some oral issues have been linked to certain chronic diseases or conditions. The following are some chronic health conditions that can affect your mouth, and vice versa.

Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease that affects your body’s ability to process sugar. It can be managed with treatment. Left untreated, it can cause many kinds of problems, including some in your mouth. These include:

  • Less saliva. This can make your mouth feel very dry.
  • More cavities. Saliva is needed to protect your teeth from cavities.
  • Gum disease. Your gums can become inflamed and bleed.
  • Slow healing. Cold sores or cuts in your mouth may take longer to heal.
  • Infections. You are more likely to get an infection in your mouth.

If you have poor oral health, you are more likely to get diabetes. Gum disease is an infection. Infections cause blood sugar to rise. If you have gum disease and don’t treat it, your blood sugar could increase. This can raise your risk of developing diabetes.

Cardiovascular problems

Your mouth contains hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. A healthy mouth has the ability to fight off the bad bacteria that cause disease. But when you have gum disease, an infection, or another problem in your mouth, you lose that ability to fight off those germs.

Many studies show an association between gum disease (also called periodontal disease) and cardiovascular disease. The bacteria in your mouth can cause certain types of infection and inflammation. This research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and even stroke could be related to these types.

Another cardiovascular condition linked to oral health is endocarditis. This is an infection in your heart. It is usually caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that attach to weakened areas of the heart. These bacteria could come from your mouth, if your mouth’s normal defenses are down.

Cancer

More than one-third of cancer patients experience problems with their mouth. Cancer and its treatment methods can weaken the body’s immune system. This makes you more likely to get an infection, especially if you have unhealthy gums. They also can cause side effects that affect your mouth. These include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Sensitive gums
  • Jaw pain

HIV/AIDS

HIV and AIDS also weaken your immune system. That puts you more at risk of infections or other oral problems. It is common for people with HIV/AIDS to develop issues in their mouths, including:

  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Thrush (yeast infection of the mouth)
  • White lesions on the tongue
  • Serious gum disease and infection
  • Mouth ulcers

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis causes your bones to become weaker and more brittle. This could lead to bone loss in your teeth. You could eventually lose teeth because as they become weak and break. In addition, some medicines that treat osteoporosis can cause problems in the bones of the jaw.

Sexually transmitted infections

A number of different sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause symptoms in your mouth. These include:

  • HPV (human papillomavirus) – Some strains can cause warts in the mouth or throat. Other strains can cause head and neck cancers. These can be hard to detect. They usually develop at the base of the tongue, the tonsils, or the back of the throat.
  • Herpes – Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes cold sores and other mouth lesions. Type 2 usually causes blisters in the genitals. But both types can be passed between the genitals and mouth. So type 2 could also cause painful blisters in or around the mouth.
  • Gonorrhea – This bacterial infection can cause soreness and burning in your throat. Sometimes you may see white spots in your mouth, as well.
  • Syphilis – In its primary (first) stage, you may get sores (chancres) on your lips, tongue, or other places inside your mouth. The sores may go away, even if left untreated. But you will still have the infection and can spread it.

Preterm birth

Severe gum disease has been linked to preterm labor and low birth weight in babies. Research suggests that oral bacteria can affect the placenta and interfere with the growth and development of the baby. It also shows that a severe oral infection could trigger labor too early. This could cause the baby to be born prematurely.

Things to consider

Periodontal disease can have serious effects on your health. If you notice that you have any of the symptoms of gum disease, call your doctor or dentist.

  • Red, swollen, or tender gums.
  • Bleeding when brushing or flossing.
  • Gums that are pulling away from the teeth.
  • Sores or colored patches in the mouth.
  • Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth.

Whether you have a chronic disease or are at risk for one, you need to take good care of your mouth. Follow these tips for good oral health:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss your teeth every day.
  • Get regular checkups with your dentist.
  • Limit starchy and sugary foods and drinks.
  • Treat any symptoms of dry mouth you may have. You can:
  • Drink extra water.
  • Use sugar-free gum, candy, or mints to moisten your mouth.
  • Use a saliva substitute or oral moisturizer.
  • Don’t use tobacco.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • I have a chronic disease. Are there any oral aspects to the disease I should watch out for?
  • How does my oral health affect my overall health?
  • If I have bleeding gums, do I need to see my dentist?
  • How serious is periodontal disease?
  • How is it treated?
  • Can I reverse my risks of developing complications if I start taking care of my teeth better?
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