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In recent years, doctors have become much more sensitive to the connection between patients’ mouths and their overall health. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to discover conditions such as heart disease and diabetes through dental hygiene. In some cases, periodontal disease—an infection of the gums—can reveal deeper health concerns. Some people, on the other hand, find that underlying conditions are negatively impacting their dental health. In both scenarios, increased awareness provides a better sense of how to remain healthy.

Understand the Connection

The mouth is an open entrance to the body. As a person eats and talks, materials can become trapped. In most cases, regular brushing and flossing is enough to clear these particles away. However, the body’s natural bacteria feeds off of this material in the meantime. Though most bacteria in the mouth isn’t inherently harmful, it must be kept under control. A lack of proper hygiene can cause these colonies to overcome the body’s natural defenses. When this occurs, tooth decay and gum disease ensue.

Certain medications can exacerbate this situation. Reduced saliva flow is a side effect of some painkillers, antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants. Spit is a mouth’s best natural defense against disease. It works to clear out particles that become caught in the teeth and gums. Without enough flow, it becomes significantly less effective, causing poor mouth health—including gum disease.

Whether due to a lack of regular care or side effects of medication, an excessive buildup of bacteria in the mouth is never a good thing. Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease that often develops in these situations. Once tooth decay or this gum disease sets in, sores and other pathways into the bloodstream open up, creating a clear pathway into the bloodstream. Once this occurs, the entire body is at risk, not just the mouth.

Watch for Potential Complications

A prime example of how the mouth’s bacteria can negatively impact other parts of the body is endocarditis. With this condition, germs make their way to small points of damage in the heart. Once they’ve attached to the organ’s inner lining, cardiac infections begin. If caught in time, this condition can be treated with antibiotics. In advanced cases, however, surgery is sometimes required.

Other examples of periodontal disease-driven conditions are cardiovascular disease, clogged arteries, and stroke—though there’s not always a direct cause and effect relationship. One can have clogged arteries without it originating in the mouth. However, research has shown a clear correlation between infections that begin in the mouth and cardiovascular issues.

With regular brushing and flossing as well as trips to a dental hygienist, bacteria can be controlled. With proper care, a person’s risk of suffering from endocarditis or cardiovascular disease decreases. This mouth-body relationship sometimes works in the other direction as well.

Side Effects in the Mouth

Any condition that suppresses the immune system increases the likelihood of oral infection. For example, patients who have diabetes often experience higher rates of gum disease. Studies show that the tie between blood sugar control and dental hygiene is strong. Those who maintain excellent oral habits tend to have an easier time controlling their diabetes. Research also indicates that patients who have gum disease struggle to keep their blood sugar even. Though dental hygiene is vital for everyone, it’s especially important for patients with diabetes.

Osteoporosis is another condition that impacts oral health. In advanced stages, this causes bones to become weak and brittle. It is therefore tied to bone and tooth loss in the mouth. It is advisable for patients with osteoporosis to maintain a healthy diet and proper dental hygiene. The more a person can do to retain bone and tooth strength, the less likely he or she is to suffer diseases of the mouth and tooth loss.

Other health conditions are tied to the wellbeing of a person’s mouth. Patients with HIV/AIDS often develop oral lesions, and people with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes incur early tooth loss. A healthy mouth can lead to a healthier body, but the opposite is also treat. It is never wise to neglect either.

Maintain Healthy Habits for a Happy Mouth

A healthy and balanced diet is key to mouth health. By maintaining a heart healthy regime, a patient’s body is best prepared to fight infection and stay strong. Avoiding tobacco use is important in keeping the body and mouth healthy. With a healthy diet and good oral hygiene, a person is much better prepared to fight any potential health concerns.

Keep your body healthy—starting with your mouth. Maintaining a healthy mouth isn’t hard. Be consistent, brush twice daily, and don’t neglect flossing. Remember to toss tooth brushes every three to four months and see your dentist regularly. He or she may be the first to warn of heart issues.