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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Physical and Oral Health: Are They Connected?

We all make an effort to stay on top of our medical needs. We regularly schedule child visits for our kids and annual physicals with our family doctors. We probably have the contact information for a dermatologist, an ENT, optometrist, OB/GYN, physical therapist and many other specialists saved in our smartphone (or at least have their cards hanging on the refrigerator.)  We understand the importance of having well-rounded medical care, so why is dentistry so often left out of our “medical mindset?”

More and more, research is showing the link between our oral health and our physical well-being. An issue that may have started as isolated bacteria and inflammation around the teeth can move to other parts of our body and cause serious problems even outside of the mouth.

For example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently found that nearly 65 million adults in America suffer from periodontal disease. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, some complications associated with periodontal disease (gum disease) include:

  • Asthma

  • Respiratory problems

  • Low birth weight in babies

  • Stroke

  • Coronary Artery Disease

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

Another very obvious overlap between dental and physical health is the detection of oral and pharyngeal cancer.  Cancer of the oral cavity and the pharynx is often initially discovered by your dentist  during a routine exam. Early detection and proper diagnosis are critical and can result in a much higher recovery rate.

The CDC also reports that dental caries (tooth decay) is still the most common chronic disease in children and adolescents.

There are many factors as to why dental care seems to be regularly overlooked or de-prioritized when it comes to our health: absence of dental insurance coverage, anxiety or fear of going to the dentist, and a lack of awareness of good oral health habits and the significance of seeing a dentist regularly are a few of these reasons.

Dentists and physicians are more commonly working together to promote the magnitude of both oral and physical health and show the significance of the connection between the two.  Doctors are being trained to examine the mouth, are providing patients and parents of patients with information regarding oral health and encouraging positive dental habits from a very young age.

It is important that we recognize that staying on top of our oral health has more advantages than just sporting a pearly white smile (though that it a great benefit!).  It is an essential piece of the puzzle in ensuring that our physical health is also top notch!