Most people don’t tend to place the same importance on dental health as they do on their medical health, though the oral cavity is a mirror that can reflect and unravel many of the human body’s internal secrets. Systemic diseases can manifest oral symptoms at an early phase, which can be crucial for a diagnosis and timing of treatment. Depending on the condition, areas such as the soft palate, hard palate, tongue, gingiva, oral mucosa, the dentition, periodontium, or the salivary gland tissue can all be affected.
Just as there is a blood-brain barrier that protects the brain from toxins in the blood, there is a barrier between the gums and teeth and the rest of the body. This barrier breaks down a little bit every time there is inflammation or an infection in the mouth, triggering disease and dysfunction in other parts of the body. It’s important to realize that your dentist sees much more than just your teeth! Research shows that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations. A few health-related conditions that can show up in the mouth include:
High sugar levels in saliva can help because bacteria to grow in the mouth, meaning people with diabetes have a much higher risk of infections in the mouth from bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi. Trouble controlling blood sugar results in a higher risk of severe gum disease and tooth loss. Diabetes can also cause less saliva to flow, which also poses a risk for gum disease and tooth decay.
Treatment for cancer can cause many oral health problems, such as bleeding, sores, and infections from yeast, fungus, or bacteria. It can also cause dry mouth, where there isn’t enough saliva in the mouth. Saliva helps prevents infection, gum disease, and tooth decay. Dry mouth puts you at higher risk for these problems. The inside of the mouth can also become inflamed and sore (oral mucositis). This can cause pain and difficulty eating, tasting, swallowing, or speaking.
The HIV/AIDS virus puts patients at risk for dental decay, gum disease, and mouth infections, like oral warts, yeast infections, sores and blisters. Patients with HIV/AIDS are also at a higher risk for oral hairy leukoplakia, a white fuzzy growth on the tongue or insides of the cheeks or lips. The medications used for treatment can cause dry mouth, which raises the risk of tooth decay, severe gum disease, and infections in the mouth. Conversely, infections in the mouth can make controlling HIV/AIDS more difficult.
People with overactive thyroid have a higher risk of tooth decay and severe gum disease. They also have a risk of thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) in the jaw that help hold the teeth in place. And some people have burning mouth syndrome, a condition where the lips, tongue, or mouth feels hot.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune connective tissue disease that is caused when the immune system (white blood cells) turns against the body’s own cells. It is characterized by lymphocytic infiltration of lacrimal and salivary glands, resulting in dry eyes and xerostomia. The immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands and causes dryness and other problems in the body. This puts people with Sjögren’s syndrome at a higher risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections.
Iron deficiency / Anemia
If a person has had blood loss or a health condition that destroys red blood cells, this causes anemia. With anemia, not having enough blood cells means the tissues of the body don’t get enough oxygen. In the mouth, this may lead to gum disease.
Leukemia, as well as subsequent chemotherapy, has a distinct effect on dental health, which means that dental hygiene should be a priority when a patient is fighting the disease. One of the first signs of leukemia can be gingivitis, or swelling and bleeding gums.
Food restriction often leads to nutritional deficiency. Nutrients that promote oral health include calcium, iron and B vitamins. Insufficient calcium promotes tooth decay and gum disease; even if an anorexia patient does consume enough calcium, they also need enough vitamin D to help the body absorb it. Insufficient iron can foster the development of sores inside the mouth. Insufficient amounts of vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) can contribute to bad breath and the development of canker sores. Gums can become red and swollen—almost glossy-looking—which is often a sign of gingivitis. The mouth can also be extremely dry, due to dehydration, and lips may become reddened, dry and cracked.
The bacterium that causes periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, increases the severity of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), leading to an earlier onset of the disease, and causes symptoms to progress more quickly. Doctors don’t know for sure how gum disease and RA are linked, but both diseases have inflammation in common, which may explain the connection. Inflammation is a protective immune system response to foreign bodies like viruses and bacteria. But with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakenly triggers inflammation even though there are no viruses or bacteria to fight off.
If you have any of these health conditions, work with Dental TLC to make sure your mouth stays healthy. Continue to take good care of your teeth and gums by brushing and flossing regularly. You also may need to see us more often for checkups, x-rays, and cleanings. Tell us about any concerns of your oral health you have, such as sores, white patches, pain, or other problems in your mouth. Together you can keep you and your mouth healthy.
Watch Dr. Simian explain how healthy teeth result in a heathy body: