Did you know that many people with heart disease also have gum disease?
You might not have known about this recent connection, but it’s no secret that what you eat affects your heart health and your teeth. If your teeth continually come into contact with unhealthy food and drinks, you can develop dental problems, which can possibly affect other parts of your body like your heart.
This month is National Nutrition Month, so it’s a good time for us to think about our health and make sure we’re doing what we can to stay healthy—in both our mouths and our bodies.
Today we want to take a few minutes to talk about the relationship between your mouth and your nutrition, how your teeth can function as a kind of magnifying glass for other health problems, and how those health problems can affect your mouth.
How Can Bad Nutrition Harm My Mouth?
You’ve been told by your parents or by your childhood dentist that candy and soda can harm your mouth. That’s true, but there are also some other foods that can be your teeth’s enemies, too.
A Nasty Culprit: Unfriendly Food
Sugary snacks like candy and pastries, as well as starchy foods like bread and pretzels, can be harmful to your mouth’s health. The same is true of beverages like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened tea, and even lemonade and fruit drinks, which usually have a ton of added sugar.
The natural bacteria in your mouth uses sugar for its food and also creates acids, which can destroy the enamel, or the protective coating, on your teeth. The sugar coats your teeth and works its way into crevices to form plaque. If you don’t take good care of your teeth and get regular cleanings, this buildup can lead to cavities or, more seriously, gum disease.
A Nasty Result: Gum Disease
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, occurs when the tissues around your teeth become infected. If you have gum disease, you may notice constant bad breath, gums that bleed easily and are red and swollen, loose or separating teeth, or a change in your bite. At first, you might not even feel it.
Treating gum disease is not as simple as filling a cavity, but if it’s caught in the early stages (called gingivitis), your dentist can usually take care of it with a professional cleaning. If it progresses, it can develop into periodontitis, which can result in bone, tooth, and tissue loss. This is the point at which it can appear in people who have serious health conditions.
The Oral-Systemic Relationship: Gum Disease and Your Health
Although it’s not proven that gum disease can cause serious health conditions like heart disease, some of these health conditions can actually be prevented or their symptoms reduced by taking care of your body.
Eating a healthy diet and limiting the foods and drinks we mentioned above, which can raise your blood cholesterol and contribute to inflammation, can help reduce your risk of developing some of these serious health problems.
Exercising regularly, losing weight, getting good sleep, quitting smoking, and reducing stress are proven ways to prevent many diseases. These things may be tough to start implementing, but even taking baby steps can start you on your way to better health and a healthier mouth.
What Health Conditions Are Linked to My Mouth?
Here are a few serious health conditions that have been linked to oral disease.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Studies show that there is a relationship between heart disease and stroke and gum disease. The relationship has been only recently discovered and is still being researched, so it’s unclear whether one is causing the other. What is known is that two of the common factors are infection and inflammation. You can read more about this connectionhere and here.
Diabetes is a major risk factor that can contribute to gum disease because your body is more susceptible to infections. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with gum disease can’t control their blood sugar levels as well as others.
Not all types of diabetes can be prevented, but many people can help prevent the disease or keep it under control by eating well (especially limiting those sugary foods!), controlling portions, and staying active, all of which can help you keep off the weight that’s often associated with developing type 2 diabetes.
Tobacco and smoking, which are also major causes of gingivitis, are contributing factors to many types of cancer. Not only can the actual tobacco cause problems when it’s in your mouth and your throat, but it also causes all sorts of problems throughout your body. Cutting back or completely eliminating tobacco products can reduce your risk of cancer and gum disease.
Some types of cancer treatments have side effects that involve the mouth and can increase the risk of oral infection. Anyone going through cancer treatment should also have their dentist examine them for oral side effects like infections.
Some cancers, like head-and-neck cancer and pancreatic cancer, have actually been linked to oral disease.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that makes your bones weak and brittle. It has also been linked with gum disease and the bone loss and tooth loss it can cause.
These diseases lower your immune system, which puts you at greater risk for infection, including oral infections like gum disease. Many people with HIV and AIDS have other oral problems as well.
We Can Help Prevent Gum Disease and Keep You Healthy!
If you’ve been to Grand Dental before, you’ve noticed how we want to arm you with the information you need to keep your mouth healthy. We don’t just want to treat your problems; we want to prevent problems, too!
Let Dr. Benefield and the staff here do our part to help you take care of your mouth. Contact us now to make sure your dental health doesn’t hint that you have other problems going on elsewhere. We’d also like to help you if you have side effects from medications that are affecting your teeth.
Make sure you’re bringing your kids and yourself in to see us for regular checkups so that we can keep your mouth clean and lower your risk for developing gum disease. We’ll also be happy to talk to you about nutrition and how it affects your mouth!