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Connection between oral health and general health.

The connection between oral health and overall health is an area of research that has garnered increasing attention in recent years. Advances in understanding oral microbiota, systemic inflammation, and cellular signaling pathways have revealed surprising links between mouth health and overall body well-being. In addition to the well-known risks of heart disease and mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, oral health can also play a role in gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


Cardiovascular disease and oral health:


The association between gum disease and cardiovascular diseases has been the subject of numerous scientific studies in recent decades. Periodontal disease, which includes gingivitis and periodontitis, is characterized by chronic inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue due to the buildup of bacterial plaque. This chronic inflammation not only affects oral health but can also have significant systemic implications, including an increased risk of heart disease.


The connection between gum disease and cardiovascular diseases has been demonstrated through a series of biological mechanisms. First, chronic inflammation associated with periodontal disease has been observed to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque on the walls of arteries. This plaque buildup can narrow arteries and restrict blood flow, thereby increasing the risk of heart diseases such as coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction. Additionally, it has been found that bacteria present in the mouth can enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums, in a process known as bacteremia.


Once in the bloodstream, these bacteria can travel to other parts of the body, including the heart, where they can trigger systemic inflammatory responses. These inflammatory responses can contribute to endothelial damage, blood clot formation, and the progression of cardiovascular diseases. Epidemiological studies have supported this association between gum disease and cardiovascular diseases. It has been observed that individuals with periodontal disease have a higher risk of developing heart diseases compared to those with optimal oral health. Furthermore, it has been found that treating periodontal disease can improve cardiovascular health, suggesting a causal relationship between the two conditions.



Mental health and oral health:


The relationship between oral health and mental health has been an area of growing interest in scientific research. Epidemiological studies have found associations between gum disease and various mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. While the exact nature of this connection is not yet fully understood, several theories suggest possible underlying mechanisms.


One proposed mechanism is the influence of chronic inflammation associated with periodontal disease on brain function and neurotransmitters. It has been shown that systemic inflammation can affect the function of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate, which play a key role in mood regulation and emotions. Therefore, chronic inflammation associated with periodontal disease could contribute to the development of mood disorders by altering the function of these neurotransmitters.


Additionally, it has been suggested that the relationship between oral health and mental health may be mediated by stress. Gum disease can be a source of chronic stress for individuals, as it can cause pain, discomfort, and concern about aesthetic appearance. This chronic stress can trigger physiological and psychological responses that contribute to the development of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.


Another proposed mechanism is the psychosocial impact of having poor oral health on self-esteem and quality of life. People experiencing dental problems, such as tooth loss or bad breath, may experience shame, social isolation, and difficulties in interpersonal relationships. These psychosocial factors can contribute to the development of mood disorders and negatively affect overall mental health.


Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and oral health:


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by a combination of symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, changes in bowel habits (such as constipation or diarrhea), and digestive discomfort. While the exact cause of IBS remains debated in the medical community, it is recognized to be influenced by various factors such as diet, stress, and imbalances in intestinal microbiota.


Moreover, a potential association between oral health and the severity of IBS symptoms has been observed. Several studies have investigated this connection and found that individuals with gum diseases, such as gingivitis and periodontitis, may have a higher risk of experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms related to IBS, such as abdominal bloating and digestive discomfort. It has been hypothesized that chronic oral inflammation and imbalances in oral microbiota could play a role in this association.


Gum disease is associated with chronic inflammatory responses in the oral cavity, which can release inflammatory mediators into the systemic circulation and contribute to inflammation in other parts of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, imbalances in oral microbiota have been observed to alter the composition of intestinal microbiota, potentially affecting gastrointestinal function and the severity of IBS symptoms.


While further research is needed to fully understand the nature and extent of this association, these findings suggest that oral health may play an important role in gastrointestinal health and the severity of IBS symptoms. It is crucial for healthcare professionals to consider oral health as a potential factor in the comprehensive management of IBS and educate patients about the importance of good oral hygiene as part of their overall care.



Approach in clinical practice:


For healthcare professionals, it is essential to recognize the importance of oral health in the context of the patient’s overall well-being. This involves not only providing appropriate dental treatment but also educating patients about the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene and scheduling regular dental visits. For patients with chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular diseases or IBS, a comprehensive dental evaluation is recommended to identify and treat any oral issues that may be contributing to their underlying condition.


Integrated approach of functional medicine:


In the context of functional medicine, which focuses on addressing the underlying causes of diseases and promoting optimal health, it is crucial to consider oral health as an integral part of the patient’s overall well-being. This may involve collaborating with dentists and other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care that takes into account both the physical and systemic aspects of oral health. Additionally, patients with IBS may be advised to maintain good oral hygiene and seek appropriate dental treatment as part of their overall management plan.


The connection between oral health and overall health is undeniable, and healthcare professionals have the responsibility to educate patients about this link and offer strategies to promote optimal oral and general health. By addressing oral health comprehensively, we can help improve the quality of life and overall well-being of patients, including those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.


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Functional Wellness Network is a network of healthcare professionals committed to your holistic well-being.



Dr. Kent Nelson
Functional Wellness Network


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