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The mouth-body connection

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Problems in the mouth may be linked to conditions elsewhere in the body, including heart disease.

Having diabetes increases the risk of gum disease, and loose teeth could be a sign of osteoporosis.

Oral health and diabetes

Bleeding gums, dry mouth, fungal infections, cavities -- these oral signs might alert your dentist to a serious health issue: diabetes. And these symptoms also might suggest other serious conditions.

Diabetes and your mouth have blood sugar in common. If blood sugar levels are out of control in your body, they're out of control in your mouth. With sugar to feed on, bacteria find a happy home in which to grow and thrive. The bacteria then attack the protective enamel layer on your teeth and over time, as the enamel breaks down, cavities develop -- one of the dental signs of diabetes.

Someone with diabetes has more mouth woes to worry about. Uncontrolled diabetes reduces the body's first line of defence against infection -- white blood cells -- which can then put oral health at risk. With bacteria teeming around the gums from high blood sugar levels, periodontal or gum disease is an easy next step.

Unfortunately, because diabetes lowers your resistance to infection, managing periodontal disease isn't easy. If you have diabetes and periodontal disease, you have to get your blood sugar levels under control for the sake of your mouth as well as your body.

Your dentist should be one of your best friends if you have been diagnosed with diabetes. Frequent professional cleaning is important in helping to prevent or control periodontal disease, and home care means flossing and brushing regularly as advised.

Oral health and heart disease

If, on your last visit to the dentist you were told you had gingivitis or gum inflammation, cavities, missing teeth, molar infections and/or decay so severe it's left only the roots of a tooth, your dentist may say your mouth isn't the only thing being attacked.

The jury is still out, but research indicates that poor oral health and gum disease could increase your chances of developing heart disease. The exact way that periodontal infections could be linked to heart disease is not known. The theory is that it is the bacteria, or the inflammatory response from the bacteria, that might cause inflammation of the heart and circulation, and more of the fatty deposits in the blood vessels (called atheroma) that cause narrowing of the arteries.

Unfortunately, neither your dentist nor your doctor fully understands how your mouth is connected to your heart. So while you wait for more research on the impact of oral health on heart health your dentist will recommend you do two things: brush and floss.

Oral health and osteoporosis

Has the tooth fairy recently paid you a visit? If so, that's a problem, since you stopped believing in mythical characters decades ago. Your dentist may tell you that osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones to become less dense over time as the body loses calcium, could be the cause of tooth loss. The jaw is also a bone and is the anchor point for the teeth. So if your jaw becomes less dense and weakens, losing teeth becomes more likely. If you have osteoporosis, brushing and flossing is doubly important because if you get periodontal disease and you are already losing bone mass, you are at a greater risk of losing teeth.

The risk of tooth loss is three times greater for women with osteoporosis than for women who do not have the disease. Women should ensure they are getting enough calcium and vitamin D, are taking enough exercise, and are eating healthily - all these can help prevent osteoporosis, which could also help prevent the loss of teeth. Remember, men can get osteoporosis too, so the same rules apply.

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