Did you know that the health of your mouth is affected not only by what you eat and drink, but also by how well you manage chronic health conditions?
It’s true. Diseases that, at first glance, might seem to have nothing to do with your teeth and gums can, in fact, be key factors influencing your overall oral health. Heart disease. Diabetes. Overactive thyroid. Chronic hypocalcemia. Osteoporosis. Believe it or not, these and other chronic conditions can negatively affect your teeth and gums.
Today, let’s take a look at 5 chronic conditions you need to proactively manage, with the help of your doctors, in order to keep your smile beautiful.
Diabetes, of course, is a condition in which a person’s pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. This can lead to the presence of excess sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia). And what do the bacteria and yeasts that live in your mouth simply love? That’s right: sugar. Poorly managed diabetes can increase the chance you’ll develop cavities, gingivitis and tooth infections.
Diabetes also causes hardening of small blood vessels that supply the extremities. That’s why cuts and scratches on the arms and legs often don’t heal quickly in diabetics. It’s also one of the reasons their teeth and gums are more vulnerable to decay — the capillaries that supply the teeth and gums can become compromised, leaving those tissues weak.
If you have diabetes, you should be working closely with your primary care doctor and your endocrinologist to manage your blood sugar. You should also maintain a regular exercise routine and visit the dentist more often for checkups.
2. Heart disease
Researchers have for some time noted a correlation between heart disease and tooth decay. The cause of that link isn’t quite clear.
It may be that heart disease causes decreased blood circulation to small blood vessels of the teeth and gums, depriving those tissues of oxygen, nutrients and antibodies, making them more susceptible to decay. It’s also been hypothesized that active infections in the mouth release bacteria into the bloodstream, causing inflammatory responses elsewhere in the body, including arteriosclerosis (hardening of the major blood vessels).
Or, it may be due to outside factors affecting both systems; for example, it may be that people who don’t eat right and exercise are also more likely not to brush their teeth and floss every day. Regardless of cause, the link between heart disease and tooth decay is certainly there.
If you have a family history or previous diagnosis of heart disease, or if you are overweight and at significant risk of developing heart disease, it’s best to actively manage your condition with your primary care doctor and/or cardiologist’s help. It’s also not a bad idea to bump up the frequency of your dental checkups.
Obesity is one of the primary causes of heart disease and Type II diabetes. Enough said.
If you have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, you put yourself at risk of both, either of which, in turn, puts you at additional risk of developing oral health problems. Work with your primary care doctor and a nutritionist to develop and implement a weight-management plan and a regular exercise routine.
This condition commonly crops up as people age, especially in post-menopausal women.
Osteoporosis occurs when changing hormone levels (in menopause, the overall decrease in estrogen) cause ionic calcium and magnesium to be leached from bone and bone-like tissues (including the dentin, enamel and cementum in your teeth). The loss of these ions weakens bone’s structural matrix and makes it more vulnerable to fracture — sort of like a bridge with rusted girders would be more likely to collapse.
It also occurs because, as we age, we don’t produce as many new cells to replace worn out, dying and damaged cells.
Osteoporosis isn’t always age-associated. It can occur in younger people who have overactive thyroid disorders (i.e., hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease and certain forms of thyroid cancer). It can also occur in people who, for one reason or another, don’t have enough calcium (hypocalcemia) or enough magnesium (hypomagnesemia) in their blood.
This might be due to low dietary intake of calcium, Vitamin D (which aids calcium absorption) and / or magnesium. In that case, both can easily be treated with nutritional planning or vitamin supplements.
But hypocalcemia can also be caused by poor parathyroid function (the parathyroid glands are responsible for regulating serum calcium levels in the blood). And hypomagnesemia is sometimes indicative of kidney dysfunction. So your doctor may order additional tests to rule those conditions out.
Regular, yearly checkups with blood work are usually enough to detect thyroid and blood chemistry problems. If you’re approaching your senior years — especially if you have gone through menopause — your doctor may also recommend regular bone density scans to detect developing osteoporosis.
5. Tobacco use disorder
Is tobacco use a disease? Believe it or not, yes. Physicians consider tobacco addiction to be a disease condition. And tobacco use certainly impacts your oral health.
First and foremost, whether you smoke, dip, or use snuff, you’re placing yourself at real risk of developing deadly cancers. Throat cancer, cancers of the tongue, soft palate and other oral soft tissues, esophageal cancer, cancer in the bones of your jaw — these are all strongly linked to tobacco use. And they’re all notoriously difficult to treat.
Notwithstanding the cancer risk, tobacco smoke and tar residue cause physical damage to your teeth, gums and other oral tissues. They cause teeth to become yellow and brittle. They cause gum recession. They cause dry mouth, which in turn promotes the harmful bacterial growth that leads to cavities, gum disease and chronic bad breath.
If you’re a tobacco user, we know it’s difficult. And we empathize. But it’s time to stop. Your primary care doctor can help you.
If you don’t have a primary care doctor and a dentist, your journey starts with finding them.
You need a team of caring, knowledgeable providers to help you safely and effectively manage your health, especially if you have or are at risk of developing any serious, chronic conditions, like those discussed above.
Click here to find out more about scheduling your first dentist appointment. Ask your friends and family for recommendations and consult your insurance provider’s network list if you need a new primary care doctor.
Let’s get you seen and on the road not only to a healthier smile, but to a healthier you!