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Healthy Mouth And Healthy Body

How well you care for your teeth and gums has a powerful effect on your overall health. Neglecting your oral health lead to more than just sore teeth and bad breath — it can open the door to all sorts of health problems, including some pretty nasty diseases like oral cancer. Researchers have found possible connections between gum problems and heart disease, bacterial pneumonia, stroke, and even problem pregnancies.

 
Taking care of your teeth isn't just about having a nice smile and pleasant breath. Recent research has found a number of links between oral health and overall health. While in many cases, the nature of this link still isn't clear — researchers have yet to conclude whether the connections are causal or correlative — what is certain is that the condition of your mouth is closely tied to your overall physical health.
 
Oral Health and Diabetes
 
Doctors have known for years that type 2 diabetics have an increased incidence of periodontitis, or gum disease. In July 2008 the connection was further highlighted: Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health followed 9,296 nondiabetic participants, measuring their level of periodontic bacteria over the course of 20 years. "We found that people who had higher levels of periodontal disease had a twofold risk of developing type 2 diabetes over that time period compared to people with low levels or no gum disease," explains Ryan Demmer, PhD, associate researcher at the department of epidemiology at the Mailman School and the lead author. While more research is needed before doctors can conclude that gum disease actually leads to diabetes, there are already a few theories about why this might be the case: One proposes that when infections in your mouth get bad enough, they can lead to low-grade inflammation throughout your body, which in turn wreaks havoc on your sugar-processing abilities. "There are all kinds of inflammatory molecules," says Dr. Demmer, "and it's believed that maybe some attach to insulin receptors and prevent the body's cells from using the insulin to get glucose into the cell."
 
Oral Health and Heart Disease
 
As with diabetes, the connection between poor oral health and cardiovascular conditions has been recognized — the two are often found together — but it still hasn't been determined conclusively whether or not there is a direct causal relationship between them. (One reason is that there are a number of other potential risk factors — such as smoking and old age — that can lead both to gum disease and heart disease.) However, in a 2005 study funded by the NIH, 1,056 randomly selected participants with no prior heart attacks or strokes were evaluated for levels of periodontal bacteria: After removing the effects of the other risk factors of age, gender, and smoking, it was found that there was an independent relationship between gum disease and heart disease, says Moise Desvarieux, MD, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School and lead author of the study. One theory about why this may occur, says Dr. Desvarieux, is that small amounts of bacteria enter your bloodstream while you're chewing. "Bad" bacteria from an infected mouth may lodge itself inside blood vessels, ultimately causing dangerous blockages. Strengthening his theory is the fact that when scientists have looked at atherosclerotic blood vessels, they have sometimes found fragments of periodontal bacteria. Meanwhile, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 established that aggressive treatment of gum disease reduces the incidence of atherosclerosis within six months.
 
Healthy Mouth, Healthy Body
 
To maintain your oral health — and overall good health — Price says you should see your dentist regularly to head off any problems early. You should also practice good oral hygiene at home by carefully brushing and flossing your teeth regularly in order to prevent plaque from accumulating and causing problems. There is nothing a dentist can do that a patient can’t undo by neglecting their dental care, says Price.
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