Just as it is said that the eyes are a window to your soul, it is your mouth is considered the gateway to your overall health as it can offer clues as to what is happening inside your body. It is crucial that you take care of your oral fitness™ and maintain a healthy mouth. According to the Mayo Clinic, your mouth can also help detect the early signs and symptoms of systemic diseases such as; diabetes, AIDS and some cancers. Your mouth is filled with countless bacteria, and researchers have found that periodontitis (an infection associated with the tissue and bone support of your teeth) is also linked with other problems, such as; cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Therefore, periodontal disease, a common disease that reduces chewing function, impairs aesthetics, causes tooth loss, and reduces quality of life, should be acknowledged as a major public health issue. Normally, the body's natural defenses and good oral health care, like daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control. However, if you don't take proper care of your teeth, you could face far more serious consequences than a simple toothache or cavity.

Systemic conditions such as AIDS or diabetes, for example, often first become visible as mouth lesions or other oral problems. Dentists can identify suspicious-looking areas or growths that may need to be further evaluated. Checking for signs of oral cancer can also be part of a regular dental checkup. Your dentist can examine your oral tissues by looking at your lips, as well as the inside of your cheeks, tongue and the roof and floor of your mouth. Any changes or abnormalities in your face and neck can also be observed. Although your dentist will not be able to diagnose oral cancer during an examination, he or she can set you on the right path for further assessment.

There is consistent epidemiological evidence that link chronic inflammation from periodontitis with the progression of cardiovascular problems. This means heart disease. The bacteria from inflammation of the gums and periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart and cause the arteries to harden. This can cause an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Any changes in your gums should be assessed by your dentist as soon as possible and before the situation escalates. Treatment of periodontitis in patients with a history of cardiovascular disease must follow guidelines for elective procedures.

People with diabetes often have periodontal disease. In addition, the American Dental Association states that there is evidence that those with diabetes are more likely to develop and have more severe periodontitis than those without diabetes. Inflammation of the gum tissue, with its progression to periodontal disease, can also make it more difficult for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar. Dentists must tell their patients with diabetes about the risks of periodontal disease, especially if the disease is poorly controlled. Dentists can educate patients that if they suffer from periodontal disease, their glycemic control may be more difficult to manage and may be at higher risk for more complications, such as cardiovascular or kidney disease.

The European Federation of Periodontology (EFP), has cited that recent studies have now linked severe gum disease with dementia as another possible outcome that can occur from not taking care of your oral health. The bacteria from gingivitis may enter the brain through either nerve channels in the head or through the bloodstream, that might even lead to the development of Alzheimer's Disease.

Periodontitis has also been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth and low birth weight, according to the EFP.  Since pregnancy is a time of profound physiological change, it is important to be mindful of the potential impact of poor oral health, especially in certain groups. Evidence supports the idea that bacteria can travel directly to the fetal environment, where they cause inflammatory and immune responses affecting the fetus. Therefore, pregnant women are urged to maintain good oral health to prevent any complications. Dentists should explain any possible risks to their expectant patients.

Given the link between periodontitis and systemic health problems, prevention is the first and most important step you can take. Flossing once daily and brushing your teeth thoroughly at least can help give you a jump start to a proper oral fitness™ routine. Choosing dental products with the American or Canadian Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, are always recommended to ensure their safety and effectiveness.  You should also replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if you have been unwell or if the bristles are excessively worn. Eating a healthy diet, low in sugar, as well as avoiding tobacco use are big improvements you can make. Make sure to book regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings, as they are the only way to remove calculus (tartar), which traps plaque bacteria along the gumline.

Practicing good oral fitness™ is an investment in your overall health and doing so can protect more than just your teeth, it can save your life!

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