Health Issues That Stem From Teeth
In this article we examine the short and long term effects of dental issues and their broader risks.
Dental problems and how they affect the body
From a young age we learn that neglecting our teeth can cause problems with our gums, and that brushing twice a day and a regular flossing regime can help prevent bacteria and cavities starting to form.
What most of us are never taught however is that dental health is actually one of the cornerstones of keeping the body and organs healthy too.
This is especially true if someone has certain medical conditions or auto-immune problems.
It is now known that the whole body is linked and your teeth are a pivotal part of that so when something becomes infected in the teeth, gums or jaw it can actually get into the bloodstream and begin to change our blood cell balance leading potentially to some extremely serious conditions such as organ failure or heart disease, and highly exacerbating those already present such as auto-immune conditions like diabetes, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
The good news is that this is a much researched area now and dental practitioners are always on the alert for tell-tale signs that in the past may have gone unnoticed.
The following is a list of conditions known to be affected by poor oral health.
Heart Disease and Stroke
These two extremely serious implications are placed together as the cause of both from a dental angle is usually the same.
The best guess for higher rates of causality is that periodontitis builds up and then ultimately releases into the bloodstream creating greater inflammation in the walls of the arteries leading to either brain or heart.
If this inflammation plaque build-up gets too much it can then become detached and block the artery leading to stroke in the arteries leading to the brain, or heart disease and potential heart attack in the arteries leading to the heart.
Going hand in hand with heart disease atherosclerosis is the name for the condition of decreased blood flow through the arteries due to a thickening of the artery wall caused by plaques, it is a leading cause of stroke and heart attack.
The endocardium is the inner lining of the chambers and valves of the heart, and this can also become inflamed and infected over time by plaques carried in the blood from other areas of the body including the gums.
Diabetes, especially for newer sufferers may be less controlled, and at these times periodontal disease is more likely to be an issue. Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums and bone areas that hold the teeth rigidly, and this causes effects such as halitosis (bad breath) tooth loss, and mild to severe pain.
Diabetes will also increase the sugar production level within your saliva potentially causing oral thrush, a fungal infection causing patchiness and potentially a significant amount of pain.
The bacteria caused by gingivitis can access the brain through either the nerve channel or the bloodstream and is a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
When the bacterial build-up is significant and we are inhaling it all day every day, this can substantially impact lung health and performance, as well as heighten the chance of pneumonia.
If a patient is suffering from Kidney Disease, then their immune system is likely to be weaker and therefore they will be more susceptible to tooth and gum infections, creating a cyclical relationship between the disease and the dental implications as both make the other worse.
Another of the auto-immune conditions, Sjogren’s is often linked to other auto-immune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, and causes a patients eyes and mouth to be dryer than normal, this causes issues with chewing function and can easily lead to difficulty maintaining high standards of oral health. Patients are much more likely to develop oral thrush.
The relationship between dental health and rheumatoid arthritis is a frequent one and as such has been at the forefront of studies in this area.
As far back as Hippocrates there are records of ‘pulling out the teeth’ as a treatment option for arthritis, and this does have some theoretical backing, but of course we now know that it's a terrible idea for gum health.
The common understanding is that periodontal conditions can stimulate rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the condition itself making it harder to maintain optimal oral health routines such as brushing and flossing.
Common side effects of lupus are chronic ulceration of the lips, as well as lesions appearing on the tongue, lips and mouth areas.
This auto-immune condition also attacks the parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands, collectively known as the salivary glands and can lead to dry mouth and an ample environment for bacterial growth.
Lupus in terms of causality is often linked to Sjogren’s Syndrome.
Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system.
It can cause stiffness in jaw muscles making it very hard to chew and swallow. This in turn increases the likelihood of a patient choking and also causes saliva to pool within the mouth and throat, which leads to infection.
This collectively creates a bacterial overload that can easily lead to severe gum disease which as mentioned can then enter the bloodstream and cause even more serious conditions.
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Known more commonly as Lou Gehrig disease, ALS causes muscles to weaken, and progressively weakens physical functioning. This causes brushing and flossing to be difficult.
The condition creates a substantial saliva build-up and greatly increases the chances of plaque and bacteria, potentially leading to gum disease, cavities and pneumonia.
Periodontitis can create a low bone mineral density in the part of the jaw that holds the tooth sockets, this is known as alveolar bone loss and is a significant trait of osteoporosis.
Huntington’s progressively affects the nerve cells within the brain, causing a lack of control in the hands and arms. This leads to difficulty maintaining good oral health and has been shown to lead to much higher levels of gum disease.
Sufferers may also be more prone to bruxism (teeth grinding) and be at much greater risk of developing TMJ disorders, tooth fractures and other resultant factors such as headache or earache.
This list of conditions stemming from from periodontal issues is by no means complete, other notable potential serious outcomes include fibromyalgia, HIV and prostate cancer as well as many others, so please be especially mindful of your dental care as it affects so much more than just your smile.
Further at risk areas for dental care
The following, though not conditions in themselves are potential risk areas when it comes to dental care and medication impacts.
It is sad to say that numbers are on the rise for younger people that experiment with these drugs after first experiencing them in the dentist’s chair, so
it is vitally important to limit any supply to exactly what is required for the specific procedure.
Misuse of Opioids can of course be fatal, but can also cause mouth lesions and sores, gum disease and tooth decay. Also if combined with sugar, dry mouth is a common end result creating a greater place for bacteria to thrive.
Opioids are also a lesser known cause of acid reflux which may lead to GERD, a chronic condition causing serious gastro-intestinal consequences.
At risk children
If cavities are left untreated in children this can lead to a poor nutrition cycle and stunted growth.
As well as this their c-reactive protein level may be elevated suggesting early inflammation and potential systemic disease as a future possibility.
Pregnancy alters the way certain hormones operate such as progesterone and oestrogen and as a result pregnant women are more likely to experience gum inflammation, periodontal disease and greater weakness in the teeth and gum areas.
When it comes to the impact on the unborn child, studies have shown that women with poor oral health are more at risk to the following:
Foetal growth restriction
Low birth weight
For any expectant mothers it is important to have a care plan in place long before the second trimester and we would advise a dental consultation to discuss your own best way forward.
Head and Neck Cancer patients
Radiation therapy can cause mouth ulceration, dry mouth and potentially damage to the salivary glands.
Potential resultant effects are a loss of taste, jaw stiffness and in some cases a loss of tissue or bone.
Preparing your oral health prior to any radiation treatment substantial betters your chances of reducing these outcomes, or indeed mitigating them entirely.
Regular dentist visits are strongly recommended to anyone due to undergo radiation therapy.
Organ transplant patients
As we now know, the body is one linked organism, and as such good dental care is vital to the best outcome of any organ transplant.
Preventative care means less potential complications during and after any procedure, and much less probability of infection.
Anti-rejection ‘immuno-suppressant’ medication is often provided after a transplant and this can provide a substantial breeding ground for bacteria, so every effort must be made to ensure the mouth, teeth and gums are best placed to withstand this.
The following is a list of other signs to watch out for in the mouth that can be indications of something that needs attention:
Cold sores – Usually caused by Herpes Simplex Virus these small blisters should clear up on their own within 10 days
Any chipped teeth – Chipped teeth can lead to tooth weakness if not investigated and treated
Black hairy tongue – This may mean bacteria has pooled on your tongue and needs a dentist evaluation
Lichen Planus – Red bumps on the inside of your mouth, or lacy white patches, should be investigated as in some cases this can be pre-cancerous
Oral Cancer – Any mouth sore that persists or numbness in face, jaw, mouth or neck can all be signs or an oral cancer (they can also be many other things) but please get these checked out
Canker Sores – Small painful blisters that may last up to 2 weeks
Leukoplakia – White patches or plaques in the mouth, this must be reviewed as can be pre-cancerous
Best practise prevention
Many of the conditions mentioned here need drastic measures to correct or reduce the speed of spread in the more critical cases.
The best approach is prevention of course and this comes from a thorough and committed oral hygiene routine.
It is important not to skip a brushing session, or miss any dentally arranged tooth cleanings or check-ups as things can go wrong quickly.
It is an important but lesser known fact that plaque begins to build within hours rather than days, in reality within 8 to 12 hours plaque can set up the beginnings of a hardened foundation commonly known as tartar (the hardened version of plaque) which is then much harder or not actually possible to remove with ‘at-home’ brushing.
A few tips for a dependable oral health routine:
Brush twice a day
Use a fluoride toothpaste and make sure that all areas of tooth and gum are cleaned, electric toothbrushes are better as they have more chance of disturbing more stubborn daily build-up. Brush for atleast 2 minutes for each sitting.
Flossing, and/or using interdental and interspace brushes is a fantastic way to get into the gaps between the teeth and getting to the hard to reach areas such as the gums around the wisdom teeth.
It seems obvious but it’s extremely easy to neglect or just not think about an area of your mouth and as a result it may get missed more often than we would like, so at your next dentist visit be sure to ask them how to floss thoroughly and how to use the specialist brushes to get to each and every area.
Attend every dental appointment
When a qualified dentist arranges an appointment, the timing is based on a well-practiced model of oral health monitoring.
Many of us lead busy lives but oral health must be seen as a priority, and if a dentist says 4 months and not 6, it is because there is a specific potential hazard they want to keep a close eye on, do not take these appointments lightly as oral health really does matter in the long run.
As a general rule, you should visit your dentist at least twice a year in normal circumstances.
Other dental equipment and mouthwash
A Waterpik is a precision targeted jet device used to ‘blast’ out dental debris from gaps and spaces. Please see here for further information https://www.waterpik.co.uk/
Many mouthwashes sold today are marketed as suitable products for reducing oral bacteria, and while this may be true they may also contain other ingredients that if used every day can actually begin to damage your teeth and gums and can potentially lead to other health issues, so please be product aware and fully look at the potential negative implications of any product prior to purchase.
The sensible approach when considering these or any other products would be to consult with your dentist as to whether this should be a part of your regime and exactly what product to purchase.
Specific advice for diabetes sufferers
For diabetes patients it is especially important that gum disease is quickly diagnosed as it can alter the composition of your blood sugar and lead to further complications.
You may also heal more slowly so the faster an issue can to be dealt with, the less dramatic any surgical trauma would need to be.
Things to avoid
In general when it comes to oral health there are some clear culprits.
Among the more damaging mistakes when it comes to oral care are:
Diets loaded with sugar and starches create the perfect breeding ground for bacterial infection.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle or one with minimal exercise is often the start point of inflammation in the body.
Those who don’t exercise are actually up to 40% more likely to develop inflammation.
Inflammation is known as a primary cause of gum disease, and regular exercise combats this by decreasing the number of inflammatory cytokines in the mouth.
Cytokines are a type of protein made by specific immune and non-immune cells which then either strengthen or weaken the immune system, and while decreasing bad inflammatory cytokines exercise may also promote the good, anti-inflammatory cytokines, so even if you already have gum disease it's damaging effects can be lessened through a daily exercise regime.
Those who are overweight are also more likely to develop gum disease.
Smoking is severely damaging to all areas of your health both oral and general.
In the case of oral health, smoking puts you at a higher risk of mouth cancers, gum issues, root decay, tooth loss, and greater complications during any gum or oral surgery.
It is also terrible for all your major organs, your blood density and the list goes on.
A final word
When it comes to your teeth you speak to a dentist, but when it comes to the rest of your body, your doctor should always the first port of call.
It is however vitally important that your dentist also be made aware of what's going on throughout your whole body and any changes you may experience.
It may be that any one pain or condition may well affect (or be affected by) your gums, teeth or jaw.
So please make sure we have the whole story because however unrelated something may seem from the outset, your dentist may be able to see a link.