Guest blog by EDA Member and GreenDOC Gold Certified Dr. Thomas Gent of SoLa Dental. Located in Austin, Texas, SoLa Dental focuses on the health and well-being of patients as well as the planet. Learn more about SoLa Dental on their website.
Oral Health and Overall Health, a Symbiotic Relationship
Your mouth is a mirror that reflects your overall health and well-being. It’s also a key determinant of your nutritional status and your self-esteem. “Oral health means more than sound teeth. Oral health is integral to overall health,” says Donna E. Shalala in the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health.
The report, which was the first that the U.S. Surgeon General has undertaken to assess the nation’s oral health, is intended to “alert Americans to the full meaning of oral health and its importance to general health and well-being.”
But what is oral health?
First of all, the word “oral” refers to the mouth, which includes not only the teeth and gums and their supportive tissues, but also the roof and the floor of the mouth (the hard and soft palate), the tongue, the lining of the mouth and the throat (called the mucosa), the lips, the salivary glands, the upper and lower jaws, and the chewing muscles. Oral health also involves the branches of the nervous system, the immune system and the vascular system (blood vessels) that serve this part of the body.
So consequently, oral health means more than just being free from cavities and gum disease. Oral health, the report states, means overall health in the tissues that “allow us to speak and smile; sigh and kiss; smell, taste, touch, chew and swallow; cry out in pain; and convey a world of feelings and emotions through facial expressions.”
Oral health and overall health—an intricate interrelationship
The health of the oral tissues is indicative of the health of organs and systems throughout your body. Your dentists and other healthcare providers can gather an enormous amount of information about your overall health simply by examining these tissues.
- A thorough oral exam can uncover nutritional deficiencies, microbial infections, immune disorders and some forms of cancer.
- Clues to a disease can be discovered by analyzing saliva under a microscope.
- Facial nerves have counterparts elsewhere in the body.
- The jaw bones and jaw joint function like other musculoskeletal regions of the body.
Conversely, research is showing us that disease within the mouth—especially periodontal (gum) disease—is connected to ailments throughout the body. Infections in the mouth are a gateway for disease-causing bacteria to enter the bloodstream and provoke a number of diseases, including:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Respiratory infection
- Stomach ulcers
- Low birth weight or premature births
Regular dental visits allow many problems to be prevented, and the rest to be treated the most successfully and conservatively. Don’t wait until you are in pain! By then it is usually a much bigger problem. Remember, we care about your overall health and well-being, not just your teeth.