If you had a decayed tooth, your dentist would perform a root canal or remove the tooth. They do this so the germs do not spread throughout your body. As you get older, other connections between the mouth and the body are important for good general health.
With increasing age, your teeth are not only important for chewing food, speaking and smiling. Your mouth is a pathway for systemic disease such as heart disease, stroke, lung disease, oral cancer, and diabetes mellitus through your teeth, gums, and saliva. Your saliva is very important to keep healthy. Some medicines reduce the amount of saliva resulting in dry mouth. Because saliva’s function is so important, be sure to contact your dentist and medical doctor if this is happening to you. You can prevent and/or treat these mouth/body connections. Avoid this by brushing, flossing, tongue scraping, using alcohol-free mouthwash, and having regular dental exams twice a year and treatment when you need it.
If you have gum disease, tooth loss and other health problems can occur. Untreated gum disease increases your chance of developing heart disease or stroke. The germs that cause gum disease start a chain reaction in the gums very similar to the one that makes blockages in blood vessels around your heart (known as coronary artery disease). These blockages are called “plaques” and can potentially travel to your brain. This causes damage and results in a stroke. There seems to be a link between these two processes. Proper medical treatment combined with excellent dental care, can improve your health.
Pneumonia is usually caused by being around another person who has it. Sometimes, you can get pneumonia if you accidentally breathe in saliva. Saliva has a lot of germs that are likely to get in your lungs and cause pneumonia. The saliva itself protects you from infection by weakening the germs and food that would stay on the teeth, gums, and tongue otherwise. If you keep your natural and false teeth (dentures and partials), gums, and the tongue clean, the germs that cause pneumonia can be reduced.
A dentist is trained to check for oral cancer during a dental exam. If you are checked for oral cancer and it is found early, you are very likely to recover. If you are not seeing your dentist regularly, the cancer can travel through the body before it is found and it can be life-threatening.
If you are being treated for diabetes (problem with sugar use by the body), good oral care is very important. Diabetes can make your gum disease worse and gum disease can make your diabetes worse. In both cases see your dentist and medical doctor to best manage your condition.
Sue S. Spackman DDS
UCLA School of Dentistry--Restorative Dentistry
American Society of Geriatric Dentistry, Board Member
Director of Extended Programs, Paul & June Ehrlich Endowed Program in Geriatric Dentistry