Have you ever wondered what the dentist is looking for when you sit back in that chair? It’s more than you might think…
Increasingly, scientific research is finding connections between oral health and serious health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, strokes, kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
This means that when you visit your dentist for a dental check-up, they’re not only looking at your teeth, they’re also keeping an eye out for any dental issues that could increase your risk of developing or worsening any other health conditions in your body. This is where the health of your gums can be so important.
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that support the teeth, caused mainly by bacteria found in plaque build-up. If the plaque isn’t effectively removed by regularly brushing and cleaning between the teeth, the bacteria can irritate the gums causing swelling, bleeding and sometimes soreness.
How is oral health linked to other diseases in the body?
Although scientists aren’t exactly sure of what’s behind the links between oral health and overall health, the current and most popular train of thought is that it might be to do with how the body reacts to inflammation.
It’s thought that, if inflammation in the mouth is left untreated, such as prolonged gum disease, it may trigger an inflammatory response elsewhere in the body, which can be an underlying issue in diseases including heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Your oral health plays a big part in your well-being
Naturally, more studies are needed, but it’s interesting to note that academics are starting to question well-established thinking on what causes certain conditions. For example, the latest studies are now considering the role that inflammation plays in coronary heart disease, which was previously thought to be due to high cholesterol.
Start thinking of your oral health as part of your overall health
Recent research from YouGov on behalf of Denplan showed that 82% of UK adults agree that poor oral health can have a significant impact on your overall general health*.
“With studies increasingly showing links between the health of our mouths and the health of our bodies, it would be ideal for all patients to start thinking about their oral health in a wider sense, being part of their whole system, and how any diseases or infections in their mouths might affect the rest of their body,” says Henry Clover, Deputy Chief Dental Officer at Denplan.
“It’s always important to let your dentist know if you have, or if you have had any serious health conditions. Your dentist can tailor your dental care and recommend an oral health routine to best suit your individual needs in relation to any conditions you may have. Diabetics, for example, may find they suffer more from oral health issues such as dry mouth, gum disease, and mouth infections – all of which can be managed with the help of your dental practice team.”
What can you do to keep your mouth healthy?
- Visit your dentist as often as they recommend – this can help to spot any problems early on
- Follow a thorough brushing routine, ensuring you brush for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. This should ideally be the last thing at night and on one other occasion that day
- Ensure you clean between your teeth daily to remove bacteria that brushing can’t reach. This is very important to reduce your chances of gum disease. You can use floss or interdental brushes – whatever you find easiest and most effective (be guided here by your dental team)
- Cut back on how often you have sugary foods and drinks and eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables
How dental professionals can help
Dentists can help to diagnose gum disease and can also help patients to take measures to treat the condition and prevent it from re-occurring. What’s more, while routine dental checks cannot diagnose a systemic disease, such as heart disease, they can help patients to be aware of their risk of developing inflammation in the body so that, if necessary, they can seek medical guidance and take preventive action.
Although still in its infancy, some private dental practices are even starting to offer additional health checks to patients such as weight monitoring, blood pressure, diabetes checks, and cholesterol levels. This value-added service supports the message of oral health linking to overall health and provides patients with valuable insights into their general wellbeing, especially if they find it more convenient to visit their dentist on a more regular basis than their GP.
Published: April 19th, 2016
* Denplan/YouGov Survey January 2016. Online survey of 5,152 UK adults