Oral Health: The Oral-Body Connection
By Dr. Grace Liu and
Dr. Lewis Yu
The connection between medical and dental problems has begun to blur over the past few years. It wasn’t long ago when a physician wouldn’t think about referring a patient with heart disease to a dentist for gum treatment. The same went for diabetes, pregnancy, headaches, or many other medical conditions. There has been a surge of new studies and evidences that connects the impact of oral health with rest of the body. The relationship between MD and DMD is changing. We no longer just work in our separate fields. We have begun to collaborate as a team in order to provide our mutual patients higher level of care. In this article, we will review some of the proven and emerging links between oral and medical health.
Oral Health and Diabetes
There is a flora of bacteria living in our gums and on our teeth. This flora of bacteria strikes a very sensitive balance with our immune system. When this balance is disrupted by an increase of certain bacteria counts, the body’s immune system responds to bring the system back to status quo. Inflammation is part of the response to infection.
The inflammation in the mouth weakens our body’s ability to control sugar by interfering with the body’s ability to use insulin. Without insulin, the sugar level in the blood rises. High blood sugar facilitates further gum infection and destruction of teeth foundation.
Oral Health and Heart Disease
91% of patients with heart disease have gum infection as well. It has been found that the same kinds of bacteria causing gum disease are also present in the arterial plaques which lead to heart attack and stroke.
There is emerging evidence that suggests snoring is a risk factor for heart attack (A person can snore without being sleep apnic). The current thinking is that the vibration created by snoring induces formations of coronal arterial plaques. The plaques would reduce the blood flow to the heart and cause heart attacks. The plaques may also become dislodges and travel to the brain to cause stroke.
Oral Health and Hypertension
Sleep apnea is connected to heart diseases because it causes high blood pressure. The exact mechanism is not known. It is believed there are several pathways causing blood pressure to rise. One of them has to do with the sympathetic nervous system. When a person is in a sleep apnea episode, the oxygen is cut off. The body activates fight-or-flight response to get oxygen back into the body. Part of the response is to elevate blood pressure to wake the body. Over time, pressure stays elevated consistently in waiting for the next episode.
Another pathway deals with production of Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide is a naturally produced chemical mainly from cells in our sinus. Its function is to dilate blood vessels. Without a vasodilator, blood has to flow through a smaller space at a higher speed. The overall effect of this scenario is high blood pressure.
Oral Health and Headache
95% of headaches are muscle tension induced. There are large groups of muscles wrapped around our head and attached to our jaw. When the jaw is aligned improperly, the muscles have to overwork to compensate. This compensation over long periods of time causes muscle spasms. Muscle spasms would feel like a headache. This is a tremendously important connection for the chronic headache patient. This means a dental solution to a medical problem. It is an opportunity to address the source of the problem, instead of treating symptoms.
Oral Health and Pregnancy
Babies who are born too early or with low birth weight often have more significant health problems, including lung, heart conditions and learning disorders. There are many risk factors contributing to this condition. Gum infection and inflammation of the body seem to interfere with a fetus’ development in the womb.
Researchers are currently working on other oral health connections. Some other mouth-body connections under current investigation include:
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
• Lung Conditions-pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
One thing is clear: the body and mouth are not separate. This is an exciting new area of study. Already the dentists are treating oral infection with a new found sense of urgency. In the coming years, there will be new connections to be discovered. It might mean solutions to medical problems that have eluded us in the past.
“My visit was, as always, a totally pleasant experience. I actually enjoy the examination and cleaning as much as I do when having my hair done! Thank you, All About Smiles, for your warmth and good care.”
Dr. Lewis Yu earned his dental degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry in 1996. He received two years of advanced post-graduate oral surgery training in both the New York City Hospital System and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He continues his education through extensive hands-on training at the prestigious Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Studies and the Pankey Institute. The Las Vegas Institute has provided Dr. Yu with advanced training in Neuromuscular Dentistry and Comprehensive Aesthetic Restorations. He had practiced in Philadelphia and Newark, DE before joining All About Smiles, P.A. He is a member of the Delaware State Dental Society, American Dental Association, and the Academy of
Dr. Grace Liu has been practicing dentistry since 1996, having earned her degree from the New York University School of Dentistry. She continued her education through post-graduate studies at Columbia University, the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Studies in Nevada and the Academy of Dentistry. She is also a member of the Delaware State Dental Society, American Dental Association, and the Academy of