Mouth-Body Connection – Risk Factors of Oral Diseases

If you are concerned about your health, knowledge is the key to understanding what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. Applying that knowledge in practice that will keep you in the best shape.

Many factors affect your health. Of course, the one most think of first is diet, eating healthy food, and then exercise and avoiding bad habits like smoking. Then there are many more such as your genetic make-up, age, environment stress levels, and access to health care. Then we could list many more.

However, here is a big one many people never think about, the importance of oral health, especially its connection to overall health.

Dentists, doctors, and researchers have found conclusive evidence that what goes on in your mouth dramatically affects the health of your whole body. The state of your dental health is essential to watch as it has been linked to an increased risk of disease.

Intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors

Oral diseases share a broad range of intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors with other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory illness, and cancer.

Intrinsic factors include age, sex, and hereditary features, while extrinsic ones comprise an unhealthy diet (particularly, one high in sugars), smoking, and harmful alcohol consumption.

Sugar consumption is the foremost risk factor for tooth decay. Eating less sugar as part of a healthy diet promotes better oral health and reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity, and other NCDs.

Smoking is a leading preventable cause of death and disease, including oral cancers and periodontal disease, and other conditions, such as premature tooth loss, tooth staining, and bad breath.

Alcohol is a significant risk factor for many diseases, including oral cancers and periodontal disease. The prevalence of oral diseases varies by geographic region, availability and accessibility of oral health services, and social determinants. It is higher in low- and middle-income countries and among poor and disadvantaged groups worldwide.

A Window to Systemic Disease

The oral cavity is a window to systemic disease, meaning a disease that affects several organs and tissues or the whole body. Dental science has identified many conditions that can present inside a person’s mouth.

Systemic diseases have oral manifestations. Sometimes dentists are the first to diagnose many conditions just by seeing a bump on the gum, something that seemed very innocent. Just a white insignificant speck on the tongue could be premalignant and can lead to other issues.

That little white speck can also show some systemic things going on, liver failure, kidney failure, hypertension, diabetes, all of those present intra-orally in some capacity. Conditions like swollen gums, mouth ulcers, dry mouth, and excessive gum problems are all clues to something wrong elsewhere in the body.

For example, diabetes reduces the body’s resistance to infection; therefore, gum disease is more frequent and severe among people with diabetes. The fact symptoms of these conditions can manifest in the mouth makes dentists key in diagnosing diseases.

The mouth, a breeding ground for bacteria

Your mouth has a varied, abundant, and complex bacterial presence. The oral environment is warm and nutrient-rich, kept moist with a continuous flow of saliva maintained near neutrality (6.7-7.3). These factors make the mouth an ideal place for the growth of oral microorganisms.

The microbes mainly exist in the form of dental plaque, a biofilm made of a group of microorganisms. Everyone is familiar with this slimy buildup of bacteria that forms on the teeth and various surfaces in the mouth. Dental plaque is composed of over 700 species of bacteria, which tenaciously adhere to oral surfaces.

The various surfaces of the mouth provide specialized areas for mucous membranes contributing to the diversity of oral microbes. These surfaces include:

  • Enamel – the tooth’s enamel surface encourages the residence of several types of oral microbes. Several distinct surfaces of a tooth, such as pits and fissures, promote the colonization and growth of different microflora populations.
  • Cheeks – A mucus layer supports establishing particular types of bacteria, especially streptococci, the bacteria causing strep throat, pneumonia, and wound and skin infections.
  • Tongue – With its papillary surface (small protrusions), your tongue gives sites for the colonization of bacteria that are protected from removal by the washing action of saliva.
  • Gingival crevice – The space between the junction of the teeth and gums also provides a bacterial colonization site.
  • Dental cavitation – In addition to bacteria congregating on oral surfaces, dental cavitation (a hole in the jawbone) can be a significant breeding ground for bacteria and other infectious elements.

The oral cavity has many surfaces, with each surface coated with specific bacteria. So, you can see the mouth is a veritable palace for a range of bacteria to make their home.

How do oral bacteria cause disease?

Bacteria in your mouth cause a range of issues, from bad breath to cavities. However, the risk of oral diseases for non-communicable diseases occurs when specific bacteria find their way into the bloodstream.

There are several barriers to bacterial penetration from dental plaque into tissues and the blood vessels that support them in the oral cavity. A network of cells and tissues called the “reticuloendothelial system” usually eliminates the oral microbes that get into the blood and circulate throughout the body,

However, if the circulated bacteria find favorable conditions, they may settle at a given site and, after time, start to multiply. Microbes from the infected site may reach the heart, lungs, and peripheral blood capillary system.

Heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke may be linked to oral bacteria’s inflammation and infections. Science supports the fact that bacteria from the mouth can cause inflammation to the point that it can cause arterial disease and trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Since the lungs are the first organ after the heart to receive oral pathogens, approximately one-third of pulmonary abscesses have been attributed to oral microorganisms.

Other body sites of potential risk from oral bacteria include hematological (blood) infections, the eyes, and ears.

Take care of your mouth

The spread of oral microorganisms from the oral cavity to the bloodstream should be promptly recognized and eliminated, if necessary, under antibiotic protection in compromised patients. If this is neglected, oral bacterial infection may lead to both morbidity and mortality.

If the dentist takes care of your mouth adequately, and you do right home oral hygiene, you can eliminate those harmful bacteria and minimize your risk of disease.