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Oral health: A window to your overall health – Part II

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Oral health is essential to general health and well-being at every stage of life. A healthy mouth enables not only nutrition of the physical body, but also enhances social interaction and promotes self-esteem and feelings of well-being. The mouth serves as a “window” to the rest of the body, providing signals of general health disorders.

For example, mouth lesions may be the first signs of HIV infection; pale and bleeding gums can be a marker for blood disorders; bone loss in the lower jaw can be an early indicator of skeletal osteoporosis; and changes in tooth appearance can indicate bulimia or anorexia.

Oral conditions have an impact on overall health and disease. Bacteria from the mouth can cause infection in other parts of the body when the immune system has been compromised by disease or medical treatments. Systemic conditions and their treatments are also known to have an impact on oral health.

What conditions may be linked to oral health?

Your oral health might affect, be affected by, or contribute to various diseases and conditions, including:

Endocarditis
Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.

Cardiovascular disease. Some research suggests that heart disease, clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to the inflammation and infections that oral bacteria can cause.

Pregnancy and birth. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight babies.

Diabetes. Diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection — putting the gums at risk. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes. Research shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels.

HIV/AIDS. Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS.

Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis — which causes bones to become weak and brittle — might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.

Alzheimer’s disease. Tooth loss before age 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Other conditions. Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include Sjogren’s syndrome — an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth — and eating disorders.

Because of these potential links, be sure to tell your dentist if you’re taking any medications or have had any changes in your overall health — especially if you’ve had any recent illnesses or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes.