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Oral Health: Does Oral Health Affect Overall Health?

Oral Health: Does Oral Health Affect Overall Health?
Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

Oral health and its effects on the body have been a topic of research recently. Some say it is the “window to your overall health” or the “mouth is the gateway to your body.” Some chronic conditions have been linked to poor oral health. Lifestyle choices can increase the risk of oral diseases and other conditions within the body.  

The mouth is filled with bacteria, some harmless while others not so much. Routine oral hygiene can reduce the risk of infection in the mouth and gums by decreasing bacteria loads. By reducing this risk in the mouth, you reduce the risk for other conditions within the body.   

Routine Oral Hygiene  

By managing good oral hygiene, you reduce oral and dental diseases. Follow these simple steps:  

  • Brush teeth at least twice a day. Choose a toothpaste with fluoride.   
  • Floss at least once a day  
  • Use mouthwash after brushing to remove food particles  
  • Change your toothbrush every 3-4 months  
  • Avoid tobacco products (smoking or chewing)  
  • Decrease sugar intake  
  • Eat a healthy diet (fruits and veggies)  
  • See your dental professional regularly  

Medications that affect oral health  

Saliva neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. It also washes away food. Some medications can reduce saliva production in the mouth. These include:  

  • Decongestants  
  • Antihistamines  
  • Antidepressants  
  • Diuretics  
  • Pain medications  

Acid-producing bacteria feed on sugar. The acid can break down tooth enamel, causing cavities. Bacteria at the gum line thrive in a sticky substance called plaque. This plaque hardens if not removed by brushing and flossing daily.  


The role of inflammation  

The plaque at the gum line can cause inflammation of the gums, known as gingivitis. This inflammation causes the gums to recede or pull away from the teeth, causing pockets for pus to collect. This process causes severe inflammation, also called periodontitis. Periodontitis may play a role in other inflammatory diseases within the body.   

  • Endocarditis is an infection of the lining around the heart (including the heart valves). Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream via the mouth and settle in the heart lining.   
  • Pneumonia or an infection in the lungs can be caused by bacteria that travel from the mouth and enters the lungs.   
  • Cardiovascular disease - Research suggests a correlation between oral bacteria, inflammation, and infection with heart disease, stroke, and clogged arteries.  
  • Pregnancy and birth complications such as low birth weight and premature birth. Infection and inflammation may interfere with the development of the fetus during pregnancy. Of note, hormonal changes during pregnancy may increase the risk for gum inflammation.   

How chronic conditions affect oral health  

Other conditions that can affect oral health include eating disorders such as bulimia, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chemotherapy treatments, and other autoimmune conditions.   

Signs of poor oral health  

  • Stains Sugar from the foods we eat and drink is fuel for the bacteria in the mouth and forms plaque, a sticky substance that can harden if not removed by regular brushing and flossing. Plaque can be stained by foods such as coffee, tea, wine, and berries.   
  • Tooth sensitivity – That quick sharp pain that occurs when eating or drinking something hot or cold can be a sign of a cavity. Cavities and tooth decay can cause infection.   
  • Bad breath – Sometimes, it is caused by foods we eat, while bad breath that lasts more than a week can be a sign of infection.   
  • Bleeding gums – Occasional bleeding is fine, but it occurs often. You may have gingivitis. You will need to increase brushing and use toothpaste made for bleeding gums.   
  • Receding gum line – Healthy gums are pink and firm. Inflammation and gum disease cause tenderness and redness. As the gum pulls away from the teeth, bacteria can settle in open pockets of space.  
  • Mouth sores – Sores that last more than 2 weeks should be evaluated. Some are prone to canker sores, but the duration should be less than 10 days.   
  • Tongue changes – If the tongue is sore and cracked, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. A thick white tongue is an indication of fungal overgrowth. This is common when taking oral antibiotics.  

Oral disease can affect how and what you eat. If pain occurs when eating, the outcome is poor nutrition, which leaves the body open to a variety of conditions. It is important to keep your mouth, gums, and teeth healthy. This will help you to live a longer, healthy life. 


Author Profile: Christine Kijek, Registered Colorectal Nurse

Christine Kijek

Christine Kijek is a colorectal nurse at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, CT. She has a wealth of knowledge in this field as well as personal experience. HPFY is thrilled that she has been an active participant in the Ostomy Support Group. She has experience working as a coordinator for cancer patients, post-operative care, and home health care for disabled children and adults. And guess what! Christine is also the recipient of the Nurse Exemplar Award. Christine lives in Bethel, CT with her husband Ed. Her children are married and live nearby. She has 4 grandchildren and is known as GiGi. Christine enjoys riding motorcycles and spends many hours gardening. She can often be found onboard a Carnival Cruise ship lounging by the pool.



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HPFY Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

Christine Kijek, RN, BSN, WON

LinkedIn Profile Christine Kijek is a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. She has completed courses for wound and ostomy specialty and has 20 years of experience. She has ...

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