From Oral to Overall: The Mouth Body Connection

We know that maintaining excellent oral hygiene prevents bad breath and reduces your risk of developing toothaches, cavities, and gum disease, but it goes even deeper than that. The case for good oral hygiene keeps getting stronger, because failing to take proper care of your mouth can lead to periodontal disease and other serious conditions. When bacteria in the mouth spreads throughout the body, it can cause diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, preterm labor, and more.

Your mouth also acts as a window to what’s going on in the rest of your body—all it takes is a look or a swab for doctors to learn a lot about your overall health. With a sample of your saliva, professionals can detect early signs of systemic disease including AIDS and diabetes. Systemic diseases affect your entire body, not just one part, and more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms early on.

Saliva is a helpful tool for detecting substances like cortisol levels, bone fragments that may indicate bone loss, and certain cancer markers. Illegal drugs, environmental toxins, and antibodies indicating hepatitis or HIV infection can be measured by routine saliva testing, which can even be done at home. Because it’s so easy, saliva testing may replace blood testing as a means of monitoring diabetes, Parkinson’s, cirrhosis of the liver, and other infectious diseases.

In addition to being an indicator of warning signs, saliva contains antibodies that attack viral pathogens and proteins (histatins) that inhibit the growth of a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans. When these proteins are weakened by infection or illness, candida can grow out of control, resulting in a fungal infection called oral thrush.

Saliva also contains enzymes that destroy disease-causing bacteria, but with 500+ species of bacteria that thrive in your mouth, saliva can’t destroy it all. That’s when plaque is formed. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film that sticks to your teeth at the gum line and allows bacteria to accumulate between your gum and your teeth. This infection is known as gingivitis, which can lead to a more serious gum infection called periodontitis.

These infections are what make it possible for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. If you have gum disease, invasive treatments and even brushing can create an entry point for bacteria to join the bloodstream. For people with healthy immune systems, fighting off oral bacteria and preventing infection is not a problem. But if disease has weakened your immune system, the introduction of oral bacteria in your bloodstream may cause infection elsewhere in your body.

Infected gums can cause you to lose teeth, but the effects might not stop there. Recent studies suggest a connection between oral infections and poorly controlled diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and preterm birth. If you want to make sure your body stays healthy, take good care of your teeth and gums every single day.