The Oral-Systemic Health Connection: A Guide to Patient Care by Michael Glick
So Why Do We Call It the Oral-Systemic Health Connection?
And while associations between oral and systemic health can be made and research is on the rise, specific cause-and-effect relationships remain elusive. Life—and certainly health—are not so easily defined, packaged, and distributed. Links have been made between oral health and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, and osteoarthritis. But establishing cause and effect can be a complex and confusing process, confounded by a myriad of variables. Wherever the quest eventually leads, the basic oral health assessment is a good starting point. Remember that all clinical contacts should include protection for both your patient and yourself.
Your oral health is more important than you might realize. Learn how the health of your mouth, teeth and gums can affect your general health. Did you know that your oral health offers clues about your overall health — or that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body? Protect yourself by learning more about the connection between your oral health and overall health. Like other areas of the body, your mouth teems with bacteria — mostly harmless. But your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and some of these bacteria can cause disease. Normally the body's natural defenses and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control.
Though studies are ongoing, researchers have known for quite some time that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body. PDA strives to educate the public about the role oral health plays in some systemic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and oral health complications during pregnancy. PDA wants you to know what you can do to keep your teeth, gums and body healthy. Diabetics are more prone to several oral health conditions, including tooth decay, periodontal gum disease, dry mouth and infection. Periodontal disease is an infection of the tissues that support your teeth, and is caused by plaque-forming bacteria in your mouth.
There has been of late an endless stream of articles and opinion pieces trumpeting the associations between oral and systemic health. Yet despite ever-increasing clinical and scientific evidence pointing to interrelationships between oral diseases and other conditions such as periodontitis and diabetes 1 or cardiovascular disease, 2 it has been difficult for dentistry to convince other professions and the public of the importance of such associations. Should oral health and systemic health actually be considered two different entities? If we look at how the profession has publicized this emerging field of study, it would certainly seem so. If this perception is allowed to persist, it will never be possible to discuss the oral health—systemic health connection in a convincing manner, as this choice of words unintentionally separates the mouth from the rest of the body. We propose that the associations between oral diseases and other diseases elsewhere in the body be discussed within the context of oral and overall health, much in the same way a physician would.
The oral cavity is the intersection of medicine and dentistry and the window into the general health of a patient. Hundreds of diseases and medications impact the oral cavity, and pathologic conditions in the mouth have a greater systemic impact than many providers appreciate. It is unclear whether there is true causality or just an association between periodontal disease and certain other systemic conditions, including atherosclerotic vascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, pregnancy-related complications, osteoporosis, and kidney disease. Diabetes has a true bidirectional relationship with periodontal disease, and there is strong evidence that treating one condition positively impacts the other. A shared trait of periodontal disease and these medical conditions is that they are chronic conditions that take a long time to develop and become clinically significant. Primary prevention-treating the patient prior to the onset of symptoms, myocardial infarction, stroke, diabetic complications, or significant periodontal disease-is the challenge.