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You might be surprised to know that the benefits of maintaining good dental health extend far beyond just your mouth.

There's a misconception that oral and overall health are separate entities. They're not. The mouth is the primary access point for the nutrition and oxygen every living body needs to survive. Good oral health equals overall health!

Oral and overall health: why they're so closely related

The link between oral and overall well-being isn't symbolic – it's physical. The mouth is both the primary pathway into the body and an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. There are up to six million bacteria present in a typical person's mouth. Most are harmless, or at least well-controlled by the body's natural defenses – as long as good oral hygiene is practiced. But if that becomes a problem, bacteria can multiply, enter the bloodstream, and spread to other parts of the body.

Studies suggest that oral bacteria and inflammation associated with gum disease may contribute to any number of serious conditions, including:

  • Endocarditis. This is an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers or valves, which can occur when bacteria or germs from your mouth spread through your bloodstream and attach to specific areas in your heart.
  • Cardiovascular disease. While the connection is still being studied, research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections of gum disease.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications. Periodontitis (a severe form of gum disease) has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Pneumonia. This and other respiratory conditions can be caused when bacteria in your mouth are pulled into your lungs.

Diabetes can be particularly problematic, resulting in a vicious cycle that's difficult to control. People with diabetes are more susceptible to periodontal disease, making blood sugar management more complicated – and diabetes even worse. And links to other conditions are also being found, including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, and dementia. 

How can I properly prevent and care for my oral health?

  • Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brush between your teeth daily with water floss or an electric toothbrush to remove plaque.
  • Visit your dentist at least once a year, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures.
  • Do not use any tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.
  • Limit alcoholic drinks.
  • If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease risk for other complications, including gum disease. Treating gum disease may help lower your blood sugar level.
  • If your medication causes dry mouth, ask your doctor for a different medication that may not cause this condition. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco products and alcohol.
  • See your doctor or a dentist if you have sudden changes in taste and smell.
  • When acting as a caregiver, help older individuals brush and floss their teeth if they are not able to perform these activities independently.

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