DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.
Improving your health is multi-faceted. There is no one thing that achieves this, it’s a consorted effort that encompasses regular habits and self-care. Did you know that a big part of your systemic health is spearheaded by your oral health? Getting regular professional dental cleanings not only helps address the current condition of your teeth and gums but also helps produce a more conducive oral environment that supports your overall wellbeing.
Most people only see their medical doctor if they are sick, and even then it’s a sick visit, not a check-up or yearly physical. I didnt start getting yearly physicals until I was in my mid-thirties and that was only because I was dealing with some health issues. However, regular dental care should happen every six months for healthy-mouthed patients and sooner if there are underlying tooth or gum issues. What has happened in the oral care industry recently is that dental offices are adopting new standard operating procedures for patient care. This includes most of the following at every visit:
- Thorough medical history review
- Blood pressure measurements
- Temperature checks
- Pulse oximeter monitoring
- Oral cancer screening
- Extra-oral exam of the head and neck
- Intra-oral exam from the lips to the back of the throat
- Intraoral photos and extra-oral photos
There are some practices that do more and some that do much less. So how might this improve your health? Well for starters, early detection of disease is probably a top reason, and red flags that may indicate an abnormal finding would be next. I actually have a perfect example from my own clinical practice. I had a regular patient that I saw every 4 months for cleanings and exams. I was very familiar with the normal anatomy of this patient’s mouth and the head and neck area. One particular visit I noticed a new lesion underneath the tongue and I palpitated what appeared to be an inflamed lymph node in the neck.
Upon confirmation from the dentist and by my insistence, the patient opted to do an oral biopsy that day….and it came back positive for cancer. After having multiple surgeries with radiation and chemotherapy, they recovered and were cancer-free. That lesion became visible within a 4 month period but it was festering and growing well long before it was ever noticeable. If the patient had missed that day’s appointment with me or had never been regular about getting professional oral care, then this situation could have ended much differently.
Besides catching cancer early, there are other ways getting a professional and regular cleaning can improve or predict your overall systemic health. For starters, regular oral care helps prevent the likelihood of gum disease, which is inflammatory and transmissible to other parts of the body. The same plaque and bacteria that build up in the mouth have been found in the heart valves of stroke and heart attack patients. A dental cleaning reduces inflammation and inflammatory cytokines while improving blood vessel function.
Examples of oral health affecting systemic health
- The connection between gum disease and heart disease may be related to c-reactive protein (CRP), a protein found in blood plasma. CRP becomes elevated in the bloodstreams of those with periodontal disease, and levels may rise in response to inflammation in the body.
- Plaques within the walls of an artery contain up to 95% bacteria.
- 30-50% of those plaques contained periodontal disease pathogens.
- Pathogenic bacteria in our mouths are ending up in our arteries.
- Our body sends out antibodies to fight bacteria in the arteries.
- Causing inflammation, which impacts overall health.
- Inflammation plays a significant connection piece between diabetes and periodontal disease. Inflammation is a known cause of insulin resistance. Therefore, chronic periodontal disease can increase insulin resistance and worsen glycemic control when left untreated and allowed to progress because it causes significant inflammation in the mouth.
- People with diabetes are susceptible to infections, primarily when their blood sugar is uncontrolled.
- Glucose is present in the saliva.
- When glucose is high in the saliva, oral bacteria proliferate.
- High oral bacteria cause inflammation, decreasing the body’s ability to control blood sugar.
- There is evidence linking severe periodontal disease with the increased risk of delivering a preterm, low birth weight baby.
- The current consensus is that pathogenic oral bacteria travel throughout the body via the bloodstream and negatively affect other parts of the body, including crossing the placenta during pregnancy. These microorganisms cause inflammation in the oral environment and can potentially cause inflammation in other parts of the body, leading to adverse pregnancy outcomes.
You can see why having regular dental care is important, not only for just your teeth and gum health but for your overall health as well. So if you don’t already have one, find a dentist today and start prioritizing your health now. It’s never too late to take care of yourself.
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Noelle Copeland RDH is an Oral Care Specialist and Dental Consultant who provides content for Brilliant Oral Care and Baby Buddy.