Exploring The Intricate Link Between Systemic Health & Failing Teeth: Unraveling The Complex Connection & Pathways To Wellness

by Andrew Mueller, DMD, MD | Oct 25, 2023

Because the fields of dentistry and general medicine are usually practiced in separate settings and by different types of doctors, there is often an unfortunate misconception that oral health is somehow disconnected from overall health.  

But nothing could be further from the truth. The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body, and it doesn’t function in isolation.  

The relationship between systemic health and oral health is actually far more intricate than meets the eye. For many individuals, failing teeth are not just a dental concern but rather a reflection of underlying systemic health issues. Similarly, poor systemic health can contribute to dental problems. In this article, we’ll delve into the multifaceted connection between systemic health and failing teeth, examining how these two realms intertwine and exploring pathways to achieve overall wellness.  

What Is Poor Oral Health?

We often hear the phrase poor oral health, but what does it really mean, and how can you accurately gauge it? Visibly dirty, decaying, or missing teeth, in combination with symptoms like bad breath, ongoing pain, or chronically inflamed gums, are obvious indicators of poor oral health. But indicators of poor oral health can also be more subtle—sometimes so much so that patients don’t even realize they exist until a major issue emerges.  

Though poor oral health can encompass many different conditions, its two primary indicators are tooth decay and gum disease. Proper home care as well as regular dental cleanings and check-ups, are essential in keeping such concerns at bay as well as ensuring their early identification and proactive treatment.  

Consequences of Poor Oral Health

The consequences of poor oral health can be far-reaching and long-lasting. From low self-esteem to financial hardship, the ramifications can ripple out in unexpected directions.  

Oral Consequences

Patients may not always feel pain or discomfort, even when their oral health is in decline. Vigilance and excellent oral health habits are key.  

Common oral consequences of poor oral health can include:

  • Pain and Discomfort – Pain in your mouth is never a good sign. It can be an indicator of tooth decay as well as a whole host of other issues and should never be ignored. If you are experiencing tooth pain or other oral discomfort, see your dentist as soon as possible.  
  • Infections – Oral infections can usually be easily treated but can lead to serious risks, such as severe swelling, the destruction of bone and gum tissue, and other severe complications, if left untreated.  
  • Gum Disease – Gum (periodontal) disease is prevalent in American adults and is associated with many systemic health issues (see below). 
  • Missing Teeth – In addition to impacting your ability to chew, speak, and smile confidently, missing teeth lead to bone loss and negatively impact your remaining teeth.  

Systemic Consequences

The body is an intricate ecosystem; what impacts one part impacts another. Poor oral health can have consequences for your other body systems and overall health. How? Let’s take a brief look:  

Though the exact intricacies of the oral-systemic connection are still being studied, what is clearly understood is that, as an inflammatory disease, gum (periodontal) disease is associated with systemic inflammation as well as other diseases and conditions stemming from similar types of inflammatory responses (the immune system’s responses to tissue damage or disease). Incredibly, researchers have found bacteria associated with periodontal disease in locations as diverse as the human heart, brain, and spinal column.  

Poor oral health has been linked to the following:

  • Digestive issues
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Adverse pregnancy outcomes (low birth weight, preterm labor, etc.)

Just as oral health can impact systemic health, systemic health issues can also impact oral health. Let’s explore the relationships between periodontal disease, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular disease in a little more depth:  

Diabetes and Its Relationship With Oral Health

Diabetes is associated with higher than normal rates of periodontal disease as well as other oral problems such as dry mouth and increased levels of sugar in the saliva. People living with Diabetes may also experience slow healing, which may impact their ability to effectively respond to treatments for gum disease and other oral issues. If you have Diabetes, it’s crucial to be vigilant about excellent oral hygiene and to see your dentist regularly.  

Cardiovascular Disease and Periodontal Disease

People living with periodontal disease are two to three times more likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event. Though the exact nature of the relationship between the two diseases is still being investigated, it’s clear that there’s a link between plaque in the mouth and plaque in the arteries. Impeccable oral hygiene may positively impact your cardiovascular health. Ensure that your dentist is aware if you have been diagnosed with heart disease.  

Polypharmacy, Dry Mouth, and Tooth Decay

Polypharmacy, the simultaneous use of multiple medications to treat one or more conditions in a single patient, can often lead to a condition known as dry mouth–a stark decrease in saliva.  Also referred to as systemic medication, polypharmacy can involve the use of countless medications that reduce saliva and lead to an increase in the mouth’s acidity (decreased PH).  In turn, this acidity can cause the bacteria responsible for tooth decay to run rampant and destroy teeth.  

If you are currently taking multiple prescription medications or are experiencing symptoms of dry mouth, speak with your dentist about proactive treatment options.  

What Can You Do To Prevent Systemic Diseases Caused By Poor Oral Health?

Though not all elements of your health are within your control, there are many ways you can increase your oral health to effectively decrease the risks of oral and systemic diseases and conditions caused by poor oral health:

  • Proper Brushing and Flossing Technique – Removing dental plaque is key to maintaining healthy teeth and preventing gum disease. With proper brushing and flossing, you can cover all your bases. Learn more about effective brushing and flossing practices here.  
  • Eat a Balanced Diet – A healthy, balanced diet is fundamental to your oral and systemic health in every possible way. Aim for plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and unprocessed foods.  
  • See Your Dentist Regularly – There’s nothing like maintenance and prevention. Attend regularly scheduled cleanings and check-ups and ensure that your dentist is aware of any systemic health concerns you may have.  

Practice Wellness for Your Entire Body

Wellness practices can positively impact your oral health, systemic health, and mental health alike. Exercising regularly, decreasing stress and anxiety, and making time for self-care are all fundamental aspects of a healthy lifestyle that can be achieved in countless ways. In addition to caring for your teeth and body physically, prioritize activities that will put a smile on your face every day.  

Take Care of Any Dental Issues Quickly and Permanently

As we’ve already discussed, it’s never recommended to leave a dental concern on the back burner. A wait-and-see approach may be tempting but will almost certainly lead to negative outcomes.  

If you have ongoing concerns about poor oral health and the toll it’s taking on your daily life as well as your systemic health, it may be time to consider an effective and truly permanent solution. Full mouth dental implants offer a tooth replacement option that looks and functions just like natural teeth.  

Ready to learn more? The team of leading Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons at Doctors Implants prides itself on building relationships with patients to guarantee superior service that can truly change lives. To schedule your free consultation and learn more about the revolutionary 6 Hour Smile, call our office today at 1-844-SMILES2!

About the Author

Andrew Mueller, DMD, MD

Dr. Andrew Mueller loves being an oral and Maxillofacial surgeon. After completing both dental and then medical school, he did a general surgery residency and an oral/maxillofacial surgery residency (both at Parkland hospital in Dallas, Texas). He has performed countless general anesthetics in the operating room, learning how to safely put patients to sleep and wake them back up.

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