How Oral Health Impacts Physical and Mental Wellness

Your entire body and every individual system within it are interwoven, and they rely on one another to function optimally. But did you know that your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body and thus deeply connected to your overall well-being? This is called the mouth-body connection.

Taking vitamins, practicing self-care, eating a nutritious diet, and finding time to exercise aren’t the only ways to improve our overall health. Science shows that achieving and maintaining optimal oral health can lower your risk of systemic disease and even improve your mental health.

Here are 5 incredible links between oral health and overall health that prove the power of the mouth-body connection.

1. Bacteria from periodontal disease can trigger or worsen symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Past studies have proven the link between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s, but more recent data has shed light on why this might be the case.

Scientists have pinpointed that one specific type of bacteria present in people with periodontal disease may significantly trigger systemic inflammation and attack tissues within the nervous system, which is believed to exacerbate Alzheimer’s symptoms. By determining which strain of bacteria is responsible, scientists are closer to being able to target it, thereby slowing the progression of both periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s.

2. Most people with obstructive sleep apnea suffer from several comorbidities.

Oral health isn’t just about your teeth and gums, it also influences your risk for developing and ability to manage sleep-disordered breathing problems.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, a type of sleep disorder that affects healthy breathing. Although OSA is a sleep disorder, not a dental issue, it’s still something that a growing number of dentists can help treat once a formal diagnosis by a doctor has been made. Oral appliances, like mandibular advancement devices, may give you relief without using a CPAP machine, which can be bulky and uncomfortable to some patients.

Obstructive sleep apnea is extremely common, with approximately 22 million adults suffering from its symptoms, but many remain unaware of how dangerous the disorder can be. Several studies have supported the theory that untreated OSA increases a person’s risk of a cardiovascular event and makes them vulnerable to severe comorbidities, like metabolic diseases, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and several forms of cancer.

3. The prevalence of periodontitis is significantly higher in diabetic patients vs. non-diabetic.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that around 37 million adults have diabetes, but a whopping 8.5 million remain undiagnosed. One way the association encourages people to be aware of their risk of diabetes is through preventive dental care when they visit a dentist at least twice a year. It’s possible that your dentist could notice your diabetes symptoms before your doctor, as one in five people with periodontitis have type-2 diabetes.

An unrelated study found that periodontitis is nearly three times more prevalent in diabetic patients than non-diabetics. The study also concluded that maintaining optimal oral health is crucial in managing diabetes, and that a flare-up of gingivitis or gum disease in diabetics is often a signal that their diabetic treatment may need to be re-evaluated.

4. Temporomandibular joint disorders and malocclusion often lead to chronic headaches and debilitating migraines.

Daily headaches and migraines are a sign that something is wrong, and your bite alignment could be the culprit.

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) and malocclusion (bite misalignment) can occur independently, but many cases of TMD are caused by untreated malocclusion, causing constant physical stress and tension in the jaw, especially around the temporomandibular joint.

Studies on patients with chronic headaches and migraines show that these symptoms are very common in TMD, and treatment of the TMD or malocclusion can relieve these headaches successfully. In fact, modern dentists aware of this connection may immediately evaluate a patient for a TMD if the person cites frequent headaches and migraines with an unknown cause.

5. Poor oral health can disrupt a person’s mental health and impede recovery from mental illness.

Although most mouth-body connection studies focus on physical health, that doesn’t mean mental health isn’t part of the equation. Several studies, like this one, show that poor oral and mental health often occur simultaneously, and it isn’t a coincidence.

There are two ways in which poor oral health impacts mental health.

Firstly, a person may not necessarily have a mental illness, but they may experience poor mental health because their smile is a source of embarrassment and pain. Poor oral health can directly cause a person’s anxiety, stress, or depressed mood, or exacerbate already present mental health struggles.

Secondly, patients with unmanaged eating disorders or severe mental illness often have poor oral health, typically in the form of extensive tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. It can be painful and frustrating and even interfere with successful therapeutic treatment, not to mention increase an already vulnerable person’s risk of serious systemic disease.

Preventive dental care and prompt treatment is the key to better overall health.

The best thing you can do right now for your physical and mental health is to establish a thorough preventive dental care regimen and immediately follow up with any dentist-recommended treatment.

Refresh your knowledge of effective at-home dental care habits and call your dentist to book a checkup if it’s been over six months since your last visit. If you feel a bit anxious or even embarrassed about your smile, know that Ada Smile Place is a judgment-free practice that prioritizes patient comfort and provides complete health dentistry.

Schedule an appointment at our Ada, OK, family dental practice today via phone or online booking.