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The 6 list: Ways oral health affects overall health

Sept. 19, 2022
If the eyes are a window to the soul, the mouth is a window into the body. You may be surprised to learn the ways that issues like gum disease and cavities can be having an effect on your overall health.
Elizabeth S. Leaver, Digital content manager

"The 6 list" is a recurring feature exploring various topics on oral health, curated for both patients and dental professionals to share with their patients. "6 ways oral health affects overall health" was medically reviewed by David R. Rice, DDS, chief editor of DentistryIQ.

There can often seem to be a disconnect between the mouth and the rest of the body, in terms of how we think of our health. After all, we don’t go to regular doctor to get our teeth checked out, do we? But the truth is that there’s no such disconnect—what goes on in the mouth is very much connected to the body. And problems with oral health—such as cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss—can and do affect overall health.

Here are 6 ways your oral health affects your body (and vice versa).

1. Cognitive impairment

There have been numerous studies done on the relationship between oral health and cognitive decline and dementia, with researchers offering a range of possible explanations for this link. Recently, a large international study looked specifically at people who hadn’t been diagnosed with dementia at the start of the study and found that those with poor oral health were 23% more likely to eventually develop some amount of cognitive decline, and 21% more likely to develop dementia. It also found that specifically, tooth loss significantly increases the risk of both dementia and cognitive deterioration.

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2. Mental health

For reasons ranging from experiencing heightened dental anxiety to having greater potential for dry mouth due to certain medications, people with severe mental health struggles are at a substantially higher risk for gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.

3. Heart disease

While good oral health isn’t a guarantee for a strong heart, studies have shown an increased association between periodontitis—gum disease—and heart disease. Among the reasons speculated and studied is that bacteria that cause gingivitis increase the risk of a bacterial infection in the blood stream, which can affect the heart valves.

4. Diabetes

Diabetes is another health issue complicated by oral health. One study in Korea of some 180,000 people indicated that of patients in the group who had periodontal disease, more than 16% developed type 2 diabetes, and patients who were missing teeth increased their risk of developing diabetes by 21%. Those who brushed their teeth three or more times a day reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 8% .

5. Sleep deprivation

Some common oral-health-related reasons that cause people to lose sleep include pain from toothaches, teeth grinding, and dry mouth. And it works both ways—certain conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), can lead to an array of poor health outcomes, many strongly linked to oral health.

6. Pregnancy outcomes

Nearly 60% to 75% of pregnant women have gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease that may be exacerbated by pregnancy hormones. If the disease progresses, it can increase the chances of pregnant women experiencing a premature delivery, low birth weight baby, pre-eclampsia, pregnancy tumors, loose teeth, mouth dryness, dental erosions, and more.

It’s clear that maintaining a good routine of brushing, flossing/interdental cleaning, and visiting your dental team protects much more than just your teeth—it protects you.

About the Author

Elizabeth S. Leaver | Digital content manager

Elizabeth S. Leaver was the digital content manager for Endeavor Business Media's dental group from 2021-2024. She has a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and many years of experience working in niche industries specializing in creating content, editing, content marketing, and publishing digital and magazine content. She lives in the Boston area.