Links between Oral & General Health

The mouth and body are connected. Your oral health is more important than you think, and is essential for general health and well-being at every stage of life. A healthy mouth is the gateway to getting nutrition into the physical body, promoting feelings of well-being, and self esteem.

The mouth serves as a “window” to the rest of the body, providing clues about your overall health, or problems that can affect the rest of your body. For example: mouth lesions may be the first signs of HIV infection; aphthous ulcers are occasionally a sign of Coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease; pale and bleeding gums can be a marker for blood disorders; bone loss in the lower jaw can be an early indicator of skeletal osteoporosis; and changes in tooth appearance can indicate bulimia or anorexia. The presence of many compounds (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, opiates, drugs, hormones, environmental toxins, antibodies) in the body can also be detected in the saliva.

Bacteria from the mouth can cause infection in other parts of the body when the immune system has been compromised by disease or medical treatments (e.g., infective endocarditis). Systemic conditions and their treatment are also known to impact on oral health (e.g., reduced saliva flow, altered  balance of oral microorganisms). Periodontal disease has been associated with a number of bodywide conditions, including diabetes.  Major chronic diseases – namely cancer and heart disease – also share common risk factors with oral disease.  

The Common Risk Factor Approach

The Common Risk Factor Approach (CRFA) to health promotion addresses risk factors common to many chronic conditions. Oral health is determined by diet, hygiene, smoking, alcohol use, stress & trauma.

Common Risk Factors for Oral Health

The common risk factors that oral disease shares with other chronic diseases/conditions are:

  • Diet– Risk factor for dental caries(vacities), coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancers, obesity.
  • Hygiene – Risk factor for periodontal disease and other bacterial and inflammatory conditions.
  • Injuries – Risk factor for trauma, including dental trauma.
  • Stress – Risk factors for periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease.
  • Tobacco smoking/chewing – Risk factor for oral and other cancers, periodontal disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, diabetes.
  • Alcohol consumption – Risk factor for oral and other cancers, cardiovascular disease, liver cirrhosis, trauma.
  • Socio-economic status – Independent risk factor as well as underlying determinant of other risk factors.