Hospital News

‘A definite connection’

The relationship of oral health and overall wellbeing is being scrutinized more than ever. This April, this correlation is one of the Population Health focuses at Western Maryland Health System.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the baby boomer generation in which the majority of people will keep their natural teeth throughout their entire lifetime. This is largely because of the benefits of water fluoridation and fluoride toothpaste. However, threats to oral health, including tooth loss, continue throughout life.

The major risks for tooth loss are tooth decay and gum disease that may increase with age because of problems with saliva production; receding gums that expose softer root surfaces to decay-causing bacteria; or difficulties flossing and brushing because of poor vision, cognitive problems, chronic disease, and physical limitations.

“There is a definite connection between oral and systemic health,” said Dr. Diane Romaine, President of the Maryland State Dental Association Foundation.

“Utilizing preventive dental care on a regular basis can help to balance the population of bacterial cells we all have in our bodies that play a major role in overall health. If you think about it, the mouth is the entry point to your respiratory system, digestive system, and even circulatory system taking into account the health of your connected teeth and gums. There are more and more studies that are looking into this relationship.

“For example, according to a recent study in Science Advances published in January 2019, people with chronic gum disease infected with the bacteria p. gingivalis, were at increased risk for developing amyloid plaque lesions in their brain and Alzheimer’s disease. While we can’t say to people ‘If you don’t brush your teeth you’ll get Alzheimer’s,’ the association between these bacteria and others that cause inflammation in the body have a real effect on overall health.

“Another 2016 review of 63 studies and 1791 patients looked at heart and carotid plaques and their connection to periodontal disease and tooth abscess. A lot of people walk around with these infections and think it isn’t a big deal because it’s ‘just a tooth’. The studies are showing connections to the bacteria in arterial plaques and those found in dental infections.”

Oral health problems in adults noted by the CDC include:

  • Untreated tooth decay. More than 1 in 4 adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay.
  • Gum disease. Nearly half of all adults aged 30 years or older show signs of gum disease, and severe gum disease affects about 9 percent of adults.
  • Tooth loss. Complete tooth loss among adults aged 65-74 years has steadily declined over time, but disparities exist among some population groups. If left untreated, cavities (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease lead to tooth loss.
  • Oral cancer. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly in people older than 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers.
  • Chronic diseases. Having a chronic disease, such as arthritis, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, emphysema, hepatitis C, a liver condition, or being obese may increase an individual’s risk of having missing teeth and poor oral health.“When you make preventive dental care, annual dental exams and radiographs a priority, good dental health can be maintained, and systemic inflammation lowered,” Dr. Romaine said. “Annual dental exams need to be a part of what a patient does to lower their risk of chronic disease and live a healthy life.”
  • For more information on oral health for both adults and children, visit www.cdc.gov/oralhealth.