News from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation

Andara Puchino


When we think of issues with our mouth or teeth we often think of our dentist. However, poor oral health can cause serious medical issues as well. Oral health is more important than you may realize. If there is a serious problem with your mouth, it is important to seek medical assistance as soon as possible as problems could be a sign of serious disease such as oral cancer.

Most oral health issues will be handled by your dentist, which is why regular visits for dental care is essential. Untreated poor oral health is associated with other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

As with other areas of the body, the mouth is filled with bacteria. While most of this bacteria is harmless, the mouth is the entry point to the respiratory and digestive tract and some bacteria can cause disease.

Daily brushing and flossing can help keep the body’s natural defenses strong, however, without good oral hygiene, bacteria levels can reach a point where it causes oral infections such as tooth decay and gum disease.

You may not be aware that certain medications can reduce saliva. These may include decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants. Saliva has an important role in washing away food and neutralizing acids that are produced by bacteria in the moth. Saliva helps protect you from microbes that can multiply and lead to disease.

Research indicates that oral bacteria and inflammation found with periodontitis (gum disease) plays a role in some diseases. Plus, certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes can lower the body’s resistance to infection.

Oral health can be linked to certain diseases. Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. Endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers or valves typically occurs when germs or bacteria from parts of the body including the mouth spread through the bloodstream and attach to parts of the heart. Additionally, while the connection to cardiovascular disease isn’t fully understood, some studies suggest that clogged arteries, stroke, and heart disease can be linked to inflammation or infection that oral bacteria can cause.

Dental management is very important for kidney disease or organ transplant. After a transplant, anti-rejection medications may make it difficult for patients to fight infection. Dental treatment is also key for patients that receive head and neck radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation can cause mouth ulcers, damage a patient’s salivary glands, and cause dry mouth. Patients with lupus are more likely to struggle with severe gum disease. This autoimmune disease attacks glands that produce saliva.

A Cigna study found on average those who receive consistent preventative dental care can reduce overall medical costs by 4.4% each year. It also found that those with diabetes, the savings was even higher averaging 12.25% each year.

Preventative dental care will help mediate many potential medical issues. Taking good care of your oral health is a sound investment for your overall health.

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