The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health

teeth with cardioscope

Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.

While most people are aware that they should brush and floss daily, it may come as a surprise that doing so is not solely for maintaining a bright, cavity-free smile. You might think of your mouth as separate from the rest of your body, whether because your dentist is different from your doctor, or because your dental insurance isn’t bundled with the rest of your health insurance. But did you know that a strong correlation exists between your oral health and your overall health? Your oral health—the health of your teeth and gums—has a major impact on overall health, medical costs, and quality of life. In other words, issues with your mouth can impact the well-being of your entire body.


Similar to other parts of your body, your mouth contains a plethora of bacteria, most of which are not harmful. However, your mouth serves as the gateway to your respiratory and digestive systems, allowing some bacteria to cause illness.

Ordinarily, your body’s natural defenses and proper oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing prevent the growth of bacteria. But if oral hygiene is inadequate, the number of bacteria can increase to a level that leads to infections like tooth decay and gum disease. Gum disease, in fact, is the most common chronic inflammatory condition in the world.


Additionally, some medications like painkillers, antihistamines, diuretics, decongestants, and antidepressants can reduce saliva production. Saliva removes food particles and neutralizes acids generated by bacteria in your mouth, which prevents microbes from multiplying and causing disease.


Research suggests that oral bacteria and the inflammation linked to severe gum disease (periodontitis) might be involved in certain diseases. An investigation conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, examining over a thousand medical records, demonstrated that individuals with gum disease had twice the likelihood of dying from a heart attack and thrice the likelihood of suffering a stroke compared to those without gum disease.


Furthermore, diseases like HIV/AIDS and diabetes can weaken the body’s immune system, exacerbating oral health issues.


Learn more about how oral health and overall well-being are interconnected below and safeguard your health.


Which Health Conditions Can Be Linked to Oral Health?

Your oral health could potentially play a role in the development of several diseases and conditions, such as:


  • This infection of the heart’s inner lining or valves (endocardium) usually develops when bacteria or other microorganisms from a different part of your body, such as the mouth, travel through your bloodstream and adhere to specific regions in your heart.
  • Cardiovascular Disease. Despite not being entirely clear, certain studies indicate that there might be a relationship between heart disease, blocked arteries, and stroke, and the inflammation and infections caused by oral bacteria.
  • Pregnancy and Birth Complications. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight.
  • Certain bacteria in your mouth can be pulled into your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

Certain conditions also might affect your oral health, including:


  • Diabetes can increase the vulnerability of your gums to infections by weakening the body’s immune system. People with diabetes seem to experience gum disease more often and with greater severity. 
  • Periodontal bone loss and tooth loss have a correlation with osteoporosis, which is a condition that weakens the bones. Some medications used to manage osteoporosis have a slight chance of harming the jawbone.
  • HIV/AIDS. Individuals who have HIV/AIDS frequently experience oral issues, such as painful lesions on the mucous membrane.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease. As Alzheimer’s disease advances, deterioration in oral health becomes more noticeable.

Several other conditions that may have a connection to oral health are eating disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer, and Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that results in dry mouth.


The effects of periodontal disease are extensive and far reaching, and we have merely scratched the surface of our understanding.


It’s important to inform your dentist about any medications you’re taking and any changes to your general health, particularly if you’ve been unwell recently or have a persistent condition like diabetes.


What Qualifies as Poor Oral Health?

Having poor oral health can include conditions like:


  • Gingivitis is an early form of periodontal disease. It arises from the short-term impacts of plaque accumulation on the teeth. Plaque is a sticky substance composed of bacteria, mucus, and food particles that accumulates both above and below the gum line and is a leading cause of tooth decay. If left unaddressed, plaque solidifies into a hard deposit referred to as tartar (or calculus), which becomes trapped at the base of the tooth. Both plaque and tartar can provoke irritation and inflammation of the gums. Excessive bacteria in the mouth and their associated toxins can cause the gums to become inflamed and tender. This response, known as an inflammatory response, is a part of the body’s natural immune reaction to invading pathogens.
  • Periodontal Disease. Periodontitis involves inflammation and infection of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth. It occurs when inflammation or infection of the gums (gingivitis) occurs and is not treated. Infection and inflammation caused by plaque buildup spreads from the gums (gingiva) to the ligaments and bone that support the teeth. Loss of support causes the teeth to become loose and eventually fall out. Periodontitis is the primary cause of tooth loss in adults.
  • Tooth Decay from Untreated Cavities. Tooth decay involves damage to a tooth’s surface, or enamel. It happens when bacteria in your mouth make acids that attack the enamel. Tooth decay can lead to cavities (dental caries), which are holes in your teeth. If tooth decay is not treated, it can cause pain, infection, and even tooth loss.

How Can You Protect Your Oral Health?


Many of the determinants that impact our oral health, such as diet and hygiene, are controllable with the right habits.  To protect your oral health – and subsequently your overall health – get into the habit of practicing good oral hygiene every single day:


  • Brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes each time. Always use a toothbrush with soft bristles and toothpaste containing fluoride.
  • Floss every time you brush.
  • Use mouthwash to effectively eliminate any food debris that may be left in your mouth after brushing and flossing.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if bristles are worn or splayed.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit sugary food and drinks.
  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.

The dental team at Dr. Michael E. Sullivan, DDS, PC empowers our patients to manage their oral health by offering routine checkups, treatments, and equipping them with the necessary information to make informed decisions.

Take charge of your oral health and book an appointment with us today.

Call us at (630) 530-0770 or contact us online at