The Effects of Oral Health on the Body

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You likely realize that the consequences of an unhealthy mouth include problems like cavities, bad breath, gum disease, and even tooth loss. But did you know that poor oral health can have repercussions that reach far beyond your teeth and mouth?

Obviously, your mouth is part of your body, yet many people tend to think of their oral health as separate from their overall well-being. The truth is, just as a wound on your finger can lead to an infection that spreads throughout your entire body, oral problems can also negatively impact your systemic health.

Following are a few of the many health conditions that can be caused or worsened by gum infections, tooth loss, advanced tooth decay, and other oral issues.


In diabetes, your pancreas does not produce sufficient amounts of the hormone called insulin, or your body has a diminished response to insulin. Insulin directly controls blood glucose (sugar) levels, so diabetics must keep a close watch on their blood glucose values. Multiple scientific studies have shown a relationship between periodontal (gum) inflammation and blood sugar control.

And this relationship is a two-way street. High blood glucose levels contribute to periodontal disease, and periodontal disease makes glucose control more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle of inflammation, pain, and higher sugar readings.. For this reason, it is especially important for diabetics to keep up-to-date on their preventative dental care and to bring any dental problems to their dentist’s attention immediately. Of course, home oral care like daily flossing and brushing are also crucial.


Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of death among American adults. The majority of cardiovascular disease is caused by arteriosclerosis, artery narrowing or “hardening” due to fatty deposits along the inside walls of arteries. There are many risk factors for arteriosclerosis, including genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and diabetes. However, researchers now know that inflammation originating from harmful oral bacteria is among the causes of atherosclerosis which leads to arteriosclerosis.

When you have a periodontal infection, the bacteria invasion in your mouth can become so severe that it enters your bloodstream. This condition is known as bacteremia. Once your blood becomes infected by these bacteria, the bacteria like to hide out on the walls of the arteries wherever they can cower behind already-deposited fats and cholesterol. Then an inflammatory response occurs in your arteries. The compounds that your body releases during this response work to fight off the bacteria. Unfortunately, these compounds also contribute to atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries.

Atherosclerosis often directly contributes to strokes, TIAs (“mini-strokes”), and heart attacks. While keeping your mouth clean and healthy is not guaranteed to prevent these vascular events, good oral hygiene can undoubtedly help to reduce your risk.


There is good data linking oral infections to pregnancy complications including preterm delivery, preeclampsia (a complication characterized by high blood pressure), miscarriage, and low-birth-weight babies. If you are considering becoming pregnant, it is an excellent idea to receive a dental examination and cleaning before conceiving to ensure that your mouth is healthy and free of infections. As for professional dental care during pregnancy, you should consult with your obstetrician and let them know if you plan to undergo dental work or any dental procedures.


While bacteremia simply means the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream, sepsis is a dangerous blood infection. Bacteremia may or may not turn into sepsis. You may hear sepsis sometimes referred to as “blood poisoning.”

Sepsis can originate in many ways, and periodontal infection is one potential source. If you have an oral infection that enters your bloodstream, the condition could potentially worsen and become sepsis. Sepsis is sometimes life-threatening and almost always requires treatment with hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.

Patients with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to sepsis. Chronic illnesses, genetic conditions, and cancer treatments can all compromise your immune system. Additionally, some treatments for autoimmune diseases can leave you with a weakened immune system. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which your immune system inappropriately attacks normal cells in your body.

For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis sometimes includes therapies that weaken your immune system to prevent it from attacking your joints. If you are taking such a treatment, you may have the reduced ability to fight off infections including bacterial infections originating from your mouth.


Although your dentist is most concerned with your mouth, a trip to your dental office could result in clues to possible systemic diseases. Many conditions produce oral symptoms. For example, diabetes sometimes causes dry mouth, and a weak immune system may manifest as oral lesions. These discoveries will need to be investigated by your doctor and are just one more reason why regular dental exams are so important. Be certain to have your twice-yearly dental cleanings and exams, and do not ignore any dental or oral symptoms. Schedule your appointment today with our team of professionals at Bela Family Dentistry of Florence, SC.

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