In dental practices, there are a lot of key priorities. Dentists want to have leading-edge, high-quality equipment, they want to properly manage their revenue cycle, marketing is key and they want to have a personal connection with their patients.
There’s something else to add to that list, however.
It’s essential for dentists to emphasize the links between oral health and other parts of the body.
We are learning so much about how poor oral health can lead to adverse outcomes in other areas, and dentists should make educating their patients about this one of their strategic goals.
With heart disease being a leading killer of men and women in America, a good place to start this conversation is focusing on the links between oral health and heart health.
Why Is There a Connection Between Oral and Heart Health?
While there is still ongoing research on the topic, there is evidence on the links between oral and heart health. In recent years, many studies have shown that people with oral health problems such as gum disease have higher rates of cardiovascular problems, including stroke and heart attack, compared to people who are considered to have good oral health.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina went over more than 1,000 medical histories, finding that those people with gum disease were twice as likely to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to suffer a stroke.
There are different theories as to why this might be the case.
Some of the theories include the fact that the bacteria that affects the gums and leads to periodontitis might travel to the blood vessels in other parts of the body. When this happens, it can cause blood vessel inflammation and subsequent damage.
Following that inflammation and damage, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots may occur.
One thing that does support this theory is the fact that oral bacteria have been found in atherosclerotic blood vessels that are located away from the mouth.
It could also be the immune response that leads to vascular damage. Any time there’s chronic inflammation, as can be the case with poor oral health, it can trigger a cascade of inflammation that can damage areas throughout the body, including the heart.
There could also be indirect relationships between oral and heart health.
For example, it’s possible that someone with poor oral health engages in a risk factor for both gum disease and heart attacks like smoking or drinking.
Other Ways Oral Health Affects Wellness
Along with potential relationships between oral health and heart health, there are other relationships to be aware of, and dentists should work on educating patients on these topics too.
For example, gum disease is linked to diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
With diabetes, doctors and researchers have found that if you control the diabetes, then the condition of your mouth also gets better. When you treat periodontal disease, then you reduce the need for insulin.
There’s growing evidence that Alzheimer’s disease may be associated with oral health.
In an animal study, researchers found that mice who were exposed to gum disease bacteria went on to develop neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.
They also found that the presence of a mouth bacteria traveled to the neurons in the mice brains.
Millions of people struggle with autoimmune disease, and there could be relationships between these conditions and the mouth.
Some of the symptoms of autoimmune disease may show up in the mouth. For example, lupus can cause mouth ulcers. Oral lichen planus is an autoimmune disease that causes patches of rashes in the oral cavity.
Maintaining a Healthy Mouth
Dentists will probably take on a greater role in the future as far as helping people manage their health holistically.
The recommendation is that people get a professional cleaning at least twice a year.
Dentists and hygienists will also need to perform a comprehensive oral exam on patients, and they can spot even early on conditions like gingivitis and cavities as well as more serious things like cysts or tumors.
Dental professionals might also be advising patients more on lifestyle factors that can reduce not only oral health risks but other potential health problems. For example quitting smoking or drinking alcohol can help promote better mouth health and also reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses.
Dentists should work toward taking a more active role in overall wellness, not only to improve patient care but also to differentiate their practice.