A Healthy Mouth For A Healthy Body

Taking care of your mouth, teeth and gums isn't just a matter of good grooming and aesthetics. It can prevent infections, and maybe even diseases, throughout your body.

Taking good care of your mouth, teeth and gums is a worthy goal in and of itself. Good oral and dental hygiene can help prevent bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease — and can help you keep your teeth as you get older.

Researchers are also discovering new reasons to brush and floss. A healthy mouth may help you ward off medical disorders. The flip side? An unhealthy mouth, especially if you have gum disease, may increase your risk of serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, poorly controlled diabetes and preterm labor. Studies in post-menopausal women suggest that bone loss in the lower jaw may precede the skeletal bone loss seen in osteoporosis.

The case for good nutrition, oral health and hygiene keeps getting stronger. Please make sure you understand the importance of oral health — and its connection to your overall health.

What's in your mouth reveals much about your health

What does the health of your mouth have to do with your overall health? In a word, plenty.

Many conditions cause oral signs and symptoms
Your mouth is a window into what's going on in the rest of your body, often serving as a helpful vantage point for detecting the early signs and symptoms of systemic disease — a disease that affects or pertains to your entire body, not just one of its parts. Systemic conditions such as AIDS or diabetes, for example, often first become apparent as mouth lesions or other oral problems. In fact, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms.

Protection against harmful invaders: How saliva disables bacteria and viruses

Saliva is also one of your body's main defenses against disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. It contains antibodies that attack viral pathogens, such as the common cold and HIV. And it contains proteins called histatins, which inhibit the growth of a naturally occurring fungus called Candida albicans. When these proteins are weakened by HIV infection or other illness, Candida can grow out of control, resulting in a fungal infection called oral thrush.

Saliva also protects you against disease-causing bacteria. It contains enzymes that destroy bacteria in different ways, by degrading bacterial membranes, inhibiting the growth and metabolism of certain bacteria, and disrupting vital bacterial enzyme systems.

The problem with dental biofilms: Links to infections and diseases

Though your saliva helps protect you against some invaders, it can't always do the job. More than 700 microbial species thrive in your mouth at any given time. If you have a poor diet, rich in processed foods, bacterial growth will reach unhealthy levels. Cariogenic foods allow these bacteria to constantly form a greater amount of dental plaque — a sticky, colorless film that can cling to your teeth and cause health problems. Cariogenic foods also impair the natural defense mechanism of your teeth which is based on dentinal fluid transport ( DFT ). Even if the food is not in your mouth, it can still affect DFT as it is under a systemic hormonal control. Weakened fluid transport allow bacteria to invade and colonize the tooth structure and cause decay and infections.

Bacteria and fungus can also colonize and live inside the roots of dead teeth and even in diseased bone. Bacteria exposed to toxic metals such as mercury can become resistant to mercury and also develop a cross resistance to antibiotics. Microbial toxins can have a detrimental effect on you mouth as well as the rest of your body.


If you regularly eat junk foods, have a diet rich in refined and processed foods and poor in nutrients, if you don't brush and floss regularly to keep your teeth clean, plaque can build up along your gumline, creating an environment for additional bacteria to accumulate in the space between your gums and your teeth. This gum infection is known as gingivitis. Left unchecked, gingivitis can lead to a more serious gum infection called periodontitis. The most severe form of gum infection is called acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis, also known as trench mouth. If you have dead teeth, they can also be a source of microbial infection, even if you have no pain. Research has shown that many chronically infected teeth do not cause any pain and the same is true in many cases of chronically infected gums. So to rely on pain as an indicator of oral infection is not a good idea.

Bacteria from your mouth normally don't enter your bloodstream. However, invasive dental treatments — sometimes even just routine brushing and flossing if you have gum disease — can provide a port of entry for these microbes. Medications or treatments that reduce saliva flow and antibiotics that disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in your mouth can also compromise your mouth's normal defenses, allowing these bacteria to enter your bloodstream.

If you have a healthy immune system, the presence of oral bacteria in your bloodstream causes no problems. Your immune system quickly dispenses with them, preventing infection. However, if your immune system is weakened, for example because of a disease or cancer treatment, oral bacteria in your bloodstream (bacteremia) may cause you to develop an infection in another part of your body. Infective endocarditis, in which oral bacteria enter your bloodstream and stick to the lining of diseased heart valves, is an example of this phenomenon.

CLICK HERE TO READ: An Overview of Oral Biofilms: Architect of Disease, Head to Toe, Tooth to Lung by Professor John G. Thomas PhD.

* Courtesy of Professor John G. Thomas

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