Over the last few decades research has detected an impact between oral health and systemic diseases including diabetes, heart diseases and strokes. Oral conditions can negatively impact general health systems however the opposite is also the case with systemic diseases and predisposing factors potentially contributing to the deterioration of one’s oral health.
Oral health affecting systemic health
There are several main pathways oral disease can impact systemic health. Chronic inflammation within the mouth can lead to an increase in specific inflammatory markers within the bloodstream which subsequently worsen existing medical conditions. Additionally, bacteria that harbor within the oral cavity may enter the bloodstream – “bacteremia” – and travel to other body sites leading to infections of such sites including the lungs, bloodstream and heart tissues. While there is a lack of evidence of a causal link between oral conditions and systemic conditions, it is widely researched that oral bacteria can contribute or worsen existing conditions.
Proposed factors that impact this relationship include:
- Genetic factors
- Environmental impacts including habits, stress, diet
- General health and severity of pre-existing medical conditions
Systemic diseases that can impact oral conditions
Conversely many pre-existing systemic diseases also have known manifestations in the mouth. People with such conditions are recommended to have regular dental assessments in order to monitor and prevent possible complications.
- Changes in bone density may affect the jaw bone. Patients who have been prescribed certain medication for bone density are at an elevated risk of adverse oral outcomes and need regular and close monitoring of their oral health to prevent needing invasive dental treatment following the commencement of such medications
- Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, the risk of gum disease is elevated. Localised infections and gum inflammation is commonly seen during the course of pregnancy.
- Given their compromised ability to respond to infections, uncontrolled diabetes is a risk factor for periodontal diseases. It is risk factor for gum infections and aggravated outcomes to pre-existing gum conditions
Eating disorders and habits
- Different foods and environmental exposures like alcohol and smoking have varying impacts on oral health. Conditions such as tooth decay, erosion, gum disease, elevated tartar build up, oral cancers etc are all potential outcomes of high risk habits and should be assessed in patients of concern
Immunosuppression & Medications
- Patients with immunosuppression, cancer treatment or on multiple medications are all at an elevated risk of oral problems. When the immune system is compromised there are higher chances of oral pathology including infections, ulcers, tooth decay and gum disease. Medications can also result in a lack of saliva which also impacts the health of the oral environment. Patients with such concerns require regular check ups to review the health of their mouth.
For more information on the relationship between oral and systemic health visit the following links:
Li X, Kolltveit K, Tronstad L, Olsen I. Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2000 Oct; 13(4): pp 547-558. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC88948/