Take Good Care of Your Body. It’s the Only Place You Have to Live: A Dental Health Series by Dr. Natalie Bailey and Dr. Suzanne Popp of Advanced Dentistry
In this 8-part Dental Health Series, we’ll be exploring important topics pertaining to your oral health. Check back each week for details on the mouth-body connections, reminders on best practices at home for your mouth, sleep and breathing disorders, understanding dental terminology, what laser dentistry is, and much more.
So, what in the world do teeth have to do with COVID? Staying healthy during a pandemic doesn’t solely mean avoiding infection with COVID-19. It means focusing on the entire body to keep your immune system strong. When you think about health, you probably don’t think of your oral health first. Let’s be honest – many of us think about our teeth the same way we think about our nails or hair… just look at all of the whitening advertisements on social media! Dental health doesn’t seem to hold the same weight as our medical health. The reality is, your oral health has downstream effects on virtually every other system in the body. That’s why it’s so important to shift your mindset to prioritizing oral health, especially when staying healthy is (and should always be) your number one goal.
Your oral health offers clues to your overall health – teeth and gum problems impact the rest of your body. The body’s natural defenses and good oral health care normally keep bacteria under control. However, without proper hygiene, bacteria that builds up between the tooth and gums can enter into the bloodstream whenever your gums bleed and travel throughout your body, in turn causing serious health problems.
For instance, gum disease is linked to increased risk of stroke, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, ulcers, osteoporosis, arthritis and preterm births. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, people with gum disease are twice as likely to die from heart attack and three times as likely to die from stroke.
It also works the opposite way. Certain underlying health conditions effect your oral health. For instance, diabetes reduces your body’s resistance to infection and can appear as frequent and severe gum disease. If 60% of the population had heart disease or diabetes, we would call that unacceptable – and yet 60% of the population has gum disease, triggering illness and disease throughout the rest of the body.
Another example is that increased trigeminal nerve traffic from TMJ and a “bad” dental bite can create central sensitization and migraines. Poor air flow during sleep also triggers nighttime clenching and bracing to maintain the airway and that “bad” bite increases the risk for sleep breathing disorders. That’s why we see so much worn teeth in patients with sleep apnea. More on that later in the series!
According to the CDC, dental cavities are still one of the most common chronic diseases throughout our lifespan. Yes, cavities are a disease. When you have a disease or inflammation, it causes your immune system to weaken and ignore other parts of your body, which could be helping fight off other infections such as COVID.
In today’s world where health is front and center, take it as a reminder to protect your body in its entirety. If you’re worried about COVID, it’s more important than ever to see your doctor and dentist. Dental offices have been practicing CDC and OSHA safety protocols for years to ensure patients feel safe for their check-ups. While it’s important to keep up with your routine dental visits, it’s also understandable that some people have less comfort leaving home during the pandemic. If you are one of those patients, or if you are in a higher risk category, stay tuned to next week’s article on some reminders of what you should be doing at home to keep up with your oral health.