The mouth truly is a window into the health of the rest of the body. Several current studies show a strong correlation between oral health and many of today’s most common chronic diseases. In a time in which prescription pharmaceutical use in the United States is continually growing, the possibility of reducing the risk of common ailments through proper oral health is an exciting topic to discuss.
Cardiovascular disease is currently the number one cause of death in the United States. C-reactive protein (CRP) is found in the blood when inflammation is present and has been linked to risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have also shown that higher CRP levels occur when a patient has active periodontitis (gum disease). Some of the main bacteria responsible for periodontitis have also been found in plaques depositing in the arteries around the heart. By controlling gum health, CRP levels can be lowered suggesting that we might be able to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease simply by taking care of our oral health.
For patients with type two diabetes, research shows a strong correlation between active periodontal disease and how well a patient’s blood sugar level is controlled. The link goes both ways too. Patients with poorly controlled blood sugar tend to have higher levels of periodontal disease and those who do nothing other than improve their periodontal health have shown a decrease in blood sugar levels and better diabetic control. The correlation is strong enough that periodontal disease is now considered the sixth complication of diabetes, and gum health needs to be closely monitored in anyone diagnosed with the condition.
So what can we do to keep our mouth as healthy as possible? It goes beyond what we’ve been told since we were kids, to brush 3x a day and floss. Now more products are available making it easier to reduce the level of bacteria in our mouths. Electric toothbrushes and water flossers such as Sonicare and Rotadent are great tools that help disrupt the bacteria better than regular brushes and floss do alone. I also believe that a mouth rinse should be a part of everyone’s oral hygiene protocol, but be careful to use one that is alcohol free. Many popular brands still have alcohol in them, which can dry out and irritate the tissue. Gels that are peroxide based, such as Perio Protect also do a great job of killing bacteria below the gumline, where they most like to live. Beyond home care, your dentist and dental hygienist can use new technology such as lasers and ozone treatment to help further keep the mouth clean and healthy.
Finally, we can’t forget that diet can play a role in bacteria levels in the mouth as well. High levels of sugar and carbohydrates allow harmful bacteria the support to proliferate and grow. Diets higher in protein and dairy take away the important food source from the bacteria. All of these strategies in combination can make a huge difference and lead to a happy, healthy mouth, which translates to better overall health.
Dr. Baumann is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.