"There's a huge link between systemic health and oral health," explains George Shepley, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). He says that the connection can be traced to the inflammatory response that occurs in periodontal disease and is seen in other conditions as well. But how it occurs is not yet completely understood.

Dental Health and Your Body

Periodontal disease commonly occurs when a bacterial infection gets into your gums and causes the tissue to bleed and become red and swollen. When your immune system responds to the bacteria, you run the risk that the inflammation will be released to other parts of the body, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and dementia.

However, it's not clear if the dental problems actually directly cause these diseases, or only have some type of relationship. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently tried to determine the exact relationship of periodontal disease with other serious health conditions, but found that there isn't enough information available to be conclusive on which comes first and how they interact. Therefore, AHA released a statement in the journal Circulation in 2012 saying that treatment of gum disease may not be enough to prevent heart attacks and strokes. More research on the connection now needs to be conducted.

Why Dental Health Matters

In the meantime, what doctors do know is that people with poor oral health and other serious inflammatory diseases have some of the same markers. And regardless of what comes first, there's some evidence that when you treat oral health problems, other illnesses can improve in the process, or may even be avoided.

For instance, one study from the University of California that was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in the summer of 2012 discovered that people who brushed their teeth regularly were less likely to develop dementia later in life than those with poor oral hygiene. Other studies have found that good dental hygiene offers protective factors against other diseases as well.

What This Means for You

While teeth brushing isn't a guarantee that you'll avoid all serious illnesses, it can at least provide you a health edge.

Remember these dental health recommendations from the Academy of General Dentistry:

  • Brush your teeth thoroughly for two full minutes twice a day.
  • Floss on a daily basis to remove the plaque that forms between teeth.
  • Visit your dentist every six months for a thorough cleaning and checkup.

To learn more about oral health, visit the AGD's website.

Dr. Shepley reviewed this article.




American Academy of Periodontology. "Periodontal Disease Linked to Heart Disease." 18 April 2012. Web. 3 Oct. 2012.

George Shepley, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Phone interview. 7 Oct. 2012.

Lockhart, Peter B. et al. "AHA Scientific Statement: Periodontal Disease and Atherosclerotic Vascular Disease: Does the Evidence Support an Independent Association?" Published online 18 April 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

MayoClinic.com. "Oral Health: A Window to Your Overall Health." 5 Feb. 2011. Web. 3 Oct. 2012.

Paganini Hill, Annlia et al. "Dentition, Dental Health Habits, and Dementia: The Leisure World Cohort Study." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 60 (8) (Aug. 2012):1556-1563. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

QualityHealth.com. "Update: Gum Disease, Heart Disease Connection." 5 July 2012.