Head, shoulders, knees and... teeth?
Oral health can offer clues about a person’s general wellbeing, so don’t underestimate the importance of regular dental check-ups and caring for your teeth.
Words: Jessica Gadd
While we all know it’s important to look after our teeth in order to avoid cavities and other dental problems, it’s less well known that good oral health is linked to good overall health and vice versa.
Dr Donald Chin, a dentist at Australian Unity’s Melbourne and Box Hill dental clinics, says there are two ways the mouth and other parts of the body are connected. Firstly, symptoms present in the mouth may show that there are already other, more serious conditions elsewhere in the body and, secondly, that poor oral hygiene can lead to poor health or serious conditions developing somewhere else in the body.
Health professionals believe the mouth can serve as a mirror to the body and that oral health is integral to general health1. Dr Chin says a dental examination can reveal the early stages of many medical conditions, including thyroid problems, high blood pressure, asthma, sleep and breathing disorders, eating disorders and auto-immune disorders such as lupus and HIV2.
Left untreated, the symptoms of poor oral hygiene can lead to respiratory infections like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease3.
Periodontal, or gum, disease is an inflammation of the gums that also results from poor oral hygiene. It is chiefly known for its role in leading to the loss of teeth, but it is also a bacterial infection that can enter the bloodstream and play a part in other health complications throughout the body. For example, many studies have identified links with cardiovascular disease3, with researchers finding that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without gum disease4.
Who is more at risk?
Women are more susceptible to gum disease during pregnancy and menopause because changes to hormone levels exaggerate the way the gum reacts to the presence of dental plaque. Diabetics, too, are more susceptible to gum disease1,3.
Dr Chin says he offers to put patients with diabetes in touch with the Australian Unity Diabetes Action Program, which is run by Accredited Practising Dietitians and offers telephone-based support and coaching to help members with type 2 diabetes live well and reduce the risk of long-term complications.
Preventing dental disease
It’s now widely recognised that the dental profession has an important role to play in the detection, early recognition and management of a wide range of oral and general diseases and conditions1,3.
Dr Chin says regular use of your toothbrush and dental check-ups could turn out to be your best weapons against dental disease, as well as playing a significant part in maintaining your overall health.
References: 1 ‘Oral health in America: a report of the Surgeon General – executive summary’, Rockville, MD. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2000. 2 ‘Oral manifestations of systemic disease’, Chi AC., Neville BW., Krayer JW., Gonsalves WC. American Family Physician, December 1, 2010. 3 ‘Periodontal disease and systemic health: current status’, Cullinan MP., Ford PJ., Seymour GJ. Australian Dental Journal, issue 54, 2009.
Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.