The Connection of Common Health Problems to Your Mouth

Dental care is the highest unmet health need in America. All of us face issues like tooth decay and gum disease throughout our lives and they can become even bigger issues as we age. There are many reasons that seniors may be at a greater risk for these issues, and all of them may impact your quality of life and overall health.

How Can Tooth Decay Affect Smiling & Eating?

When cavities go untreated, they can cause problems like painful toothaches, broken teeth, and infection. Losing teeth can affect our lives in basic ways we may not realize, including how we talk and smile. As our population ages, tooth loss is becoming a more important public health issue with links to other aspects of overall health.

Losing your teeth can make it harder to eat foods you like, particularly healthier foods like fresh fruits and vegetables that are harder to chew. Many who experience this discomfort often choose softer foods that contain higher amounts of sugar and starch, a diet that causes not only obesity, but further tooth decay.

Losing your teeth before age 65 has also recently been associated with a 50% increase in risk of death from all causes.

What Problems is Gum Disease Associated With?

Gum disease is another oral health issue that can affect our entire body. It can cause teeth to become loose (even to the point of losing the tooth) and recent evidence has found a link between gum disease and other chronic illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Why Does Dry Mouth Causes Tooth Decay?

Another oral health issue you may encounter as you age is dry mouth, which is a condition that can limit your ability to produce saliva.

Saliva is important because it helps keep teeth clean and reduces the acids our mouths, meaning that dry mouth may increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. As a common side effect of many medications, it’s important to talk to your dentist or doctor to discuss alternatives or treatment options if have dry mouth.

What About Oral Cancer?

An important issue to consider is your risk of developing oral or mouth cancer, which is most common in seniors. If you smoke or use tobacco, or regularly drink alcohol, you have an increased risk of developing lung or oral cancer as well as gum disease. If you have your teeth checked regularly, your dentist can help detect oral cancers early, increasing your chances of recovery.

5 Ways to Improve and Maintain Your Oral & Overall Health

With the number of health connections between your mouth and body, it’s clear that taking care of one means taking care of the other. Here are five ways to improve both:

  1. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  2. Don’t use tobacco.
  3. Limit your alcohol intake.
  4. Ask your dentist and your physician to talk with each other whenever recommending treatment or prescribing medication.
  5. Bring a list of all medicines you take (both prescription and over-the-counter) with you to every dentist or doctor appointment.

About the Author

Dick Gregory, DDS
Director Samaritan House Dental Clinics; UCSF Multidisciplinary Geriatric Fellow 2012-14; Associate Faculty, Department of Dental Practice, University of the Pacific A. Dugoni School; Mills Peninsula Health Services Senior Focus Committee, Chair; San Mateo County Oral Health Access Coalition, Chair

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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