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Healthy smile, healthy you: The importance of oral health

Good oral health may actually improve your overall health

Regular dentist visits can do more than keep your smile attractive — they can also tell dentists a lot about your overall health, including whether you may be at risk for chronic disease.

Gum disease and health complications

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, gum (periodontal) disease and health complications such as a stroke and heart disease may be related. Pregnant women with gum disease also show higher incidences of pre-term, low birth-weight babies.

At least 90% of all systemic diseases (diseases involving many organs or the whole body) have oral manifestations, including swollen gums, mouth ulcers, dry mouth and excessive gum problems. Such diseases include:

  • Diabetes
  • Leukemia
  • Oral cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease

With regular exams, your dentist may be the first health care provider to diagnose a health problem in its early stages.

At least 90% of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations.

Other issues caused by poor oral hygiene

Ignoring basic oral hygiene can lead to a number of other health problems, as well. These include:

  • Oral and facial pain. Infection of the gums that support the teeth and can lead to tooth loss, as well as oral and facial pain. Gum disease affects more than 80% of people in their lifetime, according to the American Dental Hygienists' Association.
  • Problems with the heart and other major organs. Mouth infections can affect major organs. For example, gums infected with gingivitis can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The heart and heart valves can then become inflamed by bacterial endocarditis, a condition that affects people with heart disease or anyone with damaged heart tissue.
  • Digestion problems. Similarly, bacteria caused by poor oral health can interrupt your digestive system by entering the bloodstream and lead to intestinal failure, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders.

What you can do

Seeing a dentist regularly helps to keep your mouth in top shape and allows your dentist to watch for developments that may point to other health issues. A dental exam can also detect poor nutrition and hygiene, growth and development problems and improper jaw alignment. Provide your dentist with a complete medical history and inform him or her of any recent health developments, even those that seem unrelated to your oral health.

At home, you can practice good oral hygiene:

  • Brush twice a day for at least two minutes, using fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Floss daily to remove plaque from places your toothbrush can't reach.
  • Eat a healthy diet to provide the nutrients necessary (vitamins A and C, in particular) to prevent gum disease.
  • Avoid cigarettes, vaping and smokeless tobacco, which are known to contribute to gum disease and oral cancer.
  • Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and exams.

Last updated November 12, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.