Our mouths are so important. Not only does our smile tell people a lot about us, but the health of that smile can tell our bodies a lot, too.
An important gateway
Literally and figuratively, your mouth is the gateway to your health.
In recent years, numerous studies have shown links between the mouth and the rest of the body. And it’s certainly clear when it comes to the heart and the major joints of the bones.
“Our mouths are home to 700 species of bacteria. We have a symbiotic relationship with bacteria: We need bacteria to maintain many of our bodies’ functions,” explains nationally recognized oral health expert Dr. Charles Sutera, DMD, FAGD. “The bacteria we carry is not only natural but, in fact, necessary. Bacteria protect us, for example, by stimulating a vigorous immune response.”
But those same bacteria can also have a negative effect on the body when they run out of control, leading to cavities, abscesses, fungal infection, and other periodontal diseases.
And that’s just the mouth.
Bacterial bad guys
When mouth bacteria get out of control, they can enter your bloodstream. That’s not good, notes Dr. Sutera. Bacteria entering your bloodstream through your mouth can affect the way your body heals and actually cause other infections and diseases, such as:
- Endocarditis—An infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or valves (endocardium).
- Cardiovascular disease—Research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke may might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.
- Joint infection—Traveling to a normally sterile area like a knee or shoulder joint, bacteria can cause infection.
- Pregnancy and birth complications—Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
- Pneumonia—Bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
That’s why after a major heart issue or surgery like a knee or hip replacement, your physician may recommend antibiotics prior to dental visits.
One way to keep bacteria in check is through antibiotics. People who have had a history of certain conditions may benefit from preventative antibiotics prior to a dental cleaning.
“The antibiotics work to prevent the bacteria of the mouth from entering the bloodstream and infecting more susceptible areas,” says Dr. Sutera.
For most people who have cleanings regularly, there is no need to worry about a systemic infection from routine dental cleaning, he notes.
The American Heart Association has affirmed that practicing good oral health supersedes antibiotics given during dental procedures for some patients.
“Translation: Maintain a good daily oral health routine and dental cleaning/checkup every six months to keep oral bacteria in balance and head off any oral issues like gum inflammation that may give bacteria a route into your bloodstream,” says Dr. Sutera.
Self-care is one of the best ways of protecting your mouth and your overall health. Remember to:
- Brush your teeth. 2 minutes twice a day, using a soft-bristle toothbrush and a toothpaste with fluoride.
- Brush your tongue, too. A lot of plaque can accumulate on your tongue, so only brushing your teeth is like only rinsing but not washing the dishes.
- Floss. Get between those teeth once or twice daily.
- Clean dentures and other dental appliances, disinfecting them daily.
- Stay hydrated. Great for your overall health as well as your mouth. Saliva is one of your mouth’s best defenses against bacteria, and good hydration generally helps saliva production.
Regular dental care
Dental cleaning is one of the most common and effective preventative treatments throughout the world. Keeping teeth clean helps keep bacteria at a controllable level.
Fewer bacteria equals less risk of cavities and reduces the risk of periodontal disease. Less inflammation of the gums means fewer bacteria potentially entering the bloodstream.
“So, take care!” encourages Dr. Sutera. “Taking care of your oral health as an investment in your overall health.”
About the Expert: Dr. Charles Sutera, FAGD
Dr. Charles Sutera, FAGD, is a doctor of dental medicine, TMJ specialist, board-certified in moderate dental anesthesiology, and renowned for high-profile cosmetic dental reconstructions. He is a certified Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry and is the founder of his dental practice, Aesthetic Smile Reconstruction.