October 6, 2022

Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.
Edmund Khoo, DDS, is board-certified in orthodontics. He teaches full-time as a clinical associate professor at his alma mater, New York University College of Dentistry, is a diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics, and serves on advisory boards for the American Dental Education Association.
The benefits of good dental hygiene go beyond bright smiles. Making sure you’re brushing properly, flossing daily, and keeping up with dental appointments preserves your overall health.
Dental problems such as gum disease and tooth decay can contribute to a number of health conditions, including heart disease and pneumonia.
This article provides a quick overview of the conditions associated with poor oral health, those that can make your dental health worse, as well as what you can do to maintain your smile.
Increasingly, researchers are finding significant connections between your overall health and dental health. Poor oral hygiene has been directly linked to pneumonia, a range of serious heart problems, as well as complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
Over the last several years, a growing body of evidence has linked dental issues, especially missing teeth and periodontitis (advanced gum disease), with heart disease and other cardiac issues. These cardiac and blood circulation problems include:
People with poor oral health have increased rates of heart attack and stroke, among other cardiac issues. While oral problems may not directly cause cardiac conditions, they may contribute to problems with the heart and are related. More research is needed, though, to understand why there is this connection.
Poor oral hygiene is also a risk factor for endocarditis, an infection of the tissues of the heart. Bacteria in the mouth due to the gum diseases gingivitis and periodontitis can enter the bloodstream and cause a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the endocardium (the tissues in the inner lining of the heart’s chambers and valves).
Complications during pregnancy and birth can also arise due to poor oral hygiene and health. Additionally, being pregnant makes you more likely to develop gingivitis, periodontitis, loose teeth, or tooth decay due to hormone fluctuations. Problems in the mouth have been linked to a range of such issues, including:
Pneumonia is a lung infection that ranges in severity and can become life-threatening.
A 2020 study of pneumonia patients in South Korea found missing teeth, having cavities, and poor oral hygiene to be closely linked to this condition. This is because bacteria in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and infect the lungs, leading to symptoms of pneumonia.
Though the exact nature of the relationship is unknown, associations have also been found between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This autoimmune disease damages the joints, causing pain and inflammation. Certain bacteria in the mouth, especially Porphyromonas gingivalis, have been found in arthritic joints, indicating an association.
Studies have linked gingivitis and Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive form of dementia that causes a degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. Researchers have found that the Porphyromonas gingivalis bacteria can travel from the gums to the brain, where they emit enzymes that damage neurons.
People with Alzheimer's disease may need assistance taking care of their teeth. Caregivers or family members may need to help people with Alzheimer's brush and floss regularly.  
Not only can oral health conditions like gingivitis and tooth decay lead to or worsen other health issues, oral health is also affected by other diseases. This is especially the case with chronic and long-term conditions. Here’s a quick breakdown of health problems that can affect your mouth.
Diabetes arises when there are problems converting sugars (glucose) into energy, leading to very high blood sugar levels. There are several different types of diabetes, of which type 2 diabetes is the most common.
Diabetes causes excessive urination, sudden weight loss, fatigue, and other symptoms and is associated with periodontal disease. Gum disease can cause tooth loss and other problems.
Living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to AIDS, can significantly impact oral health. With HIV, a range of oral and dental issues can arise, including:
People with HIV are more vulnerable to dental and oral problems because the virus attacks and weakens the immune system. As a result, it’s tougher for the body to fight off bacteria in the mouth.   
A disease that affects bone health and density, osteoporosis is another condition that can cause significant damage to your teeth and gums. The bone loss associated with this disease can affect the jawbone, causing teeth to loosen or fall out. Weakened bones in the jaw can also cause problems with dental appliances like bridges and dentures.
Osteoporosis is also associated with periodontitis. Though the exact connection isn’t clear, the weakening of the underlying bone may make the gums and teeth more susceptible to bacterial infection.
Good oral hygiene includes the following:
Dental issues, especially tooth loss and gum disease, have been linked to heart disease, endocarditis, and complications during pregnancy and birth, among other conditions. Furthermore, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and osteoporosis can worsen oral health. Practicing good oral hygiene and getting regular dental checkups are important for maintaining your overall health.   
There’s a close relationship between the health of your teeth and that of the rest of your body. Developing good dental hygiene habits and keeping up with dental appointments are part of broader self-care practices. If you’re concerned about your teeth or are due for a checkup, be sure to call your dentist. 

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Centers for Disease Control. Oral health tips.
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Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Oral health: healthy people 2020.

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