Your Oral Health & Your Overall Health: The Total Body Connection

October 2008

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

This article is attributed to the memory of my mother-in-law, Young Oh, who recently passed away from the terrible affliction of pancreatic cancer. Thought to be diabetes and treated with poor results only months ago, the diagnosis quickly changed to pancreatic cancer that rapidly claimed her life. In my professional readings over the last several years, I have learned of a link between periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer, a correlation that could easily be attributed to Mrs. Oh. She battled periodontal disease earlier in her life but was otherwise very healthy, so this study offers a potential causative factor in why she may have contracted pancreatic cancer.

With today’s advancements of modern dentistry and modern medicine, science has established many parallels regarding the relationship between dentistry and your overall health. Dentistry has clearly focused on the relationship between bacteria and the heart causing such conditions as bacterial endocarditis. The stretch of the imagination seemed to stop their in standard protocol and textbook knowledge. I have expressed my opinion for years of the potential relationship between oral bacteria potentially affecting other organs and takes placed by what I have termed “bacterial seeding”. This is the basis for harmful bacteria such as strep and staph collecting on and in the moist folds of various organs, including the heart, kidneys, intestines, appendix, and pancreas.

There are many relationships today that most of us know are true. For example, cigarettes and lung cancer, lack of exercise and obesity, nutrition and diabetes, drug abuse and mental disorders, obesity and hip degeneration, to name a few. This commonplace knowledge helps millions of people make corrections in their daily routine to lead better, healthier lives.

How does your oral health relate to your overall physical health? Well, oral health and overall health are more connected than you might realize. While the eyes may be the window to the soul, your mouth is a window to your body’s health.

Health conditions that are affected by your oral health include:

  • Cardiovascular Disease. These include heart disease, clogged arteries, stroke and bacterial endocarditis. Some researchers believe that bacteria from gum disease can enter your bloodstream and travel through your arteries to your heart, affecting your cardiovascular system.
  • Pre-Mature Birth. Potentially linked to oral bacteria getting into the placenta and amniotic fluid.
  • Diabetes. This increases your risk of gum disease, cavities, tooth loss, dry mouth, and a variety of oral infections. Conversely, poor oral health can make your diabetes more difficult to control. Infections may cause your blood sugar to rise and require more insulin to keep it under control.
  • Osteoporosis. The first stages of bone loss may show up in your teeth. Your dentist may be able to spot this on routine dental X-rays. If bone loss worsens from year to year, your dentist can suggest that you discuss the issue with your other health care providers.
  • Other Conditions. Many other conditions may make their presence known in your mouth before you know anything’s wrong. These may include Sjogren’s syndrome, certain cancers, eating disorders, syphilis, gonorrhea and substance abuse.

Pancreatic cancer strikes more than 33,000 Americans each year and kills more than 30,000, making it the fourth-leading cause of cancer death. My mother-in-law was one of these people.

A study published in 2007 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by Dr. Michaud surveyed 51,529 American men about their health the study found that having a history of periodontal disease was associated with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. This study supported by the National Institutes of Health, concluded a significant association between a history of periodontal disease and several cancers, including:

  • A 36% increase in risk of lung cancer
  • A 49% increase in the risk of kidney cancer
  • A 54% increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer
  • And a 30% increase in the risk of hematologic cancers, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma

The state of your oral health can offer lots of clues about your overall health. Your oral health is connected to many other health conditions beyond your mouth. Sometimes the first sign of a disease shows up in your mouth. In other cases, infections in your mouth, such as gum disease, can cause problems in other areas of your body. But the truth remains that, if oral problems are neglected, it is a serious cause of concern for our overall health. It’s never too late to take care of our mouth.

As I love old sayings, a health body leads to a healthy mind. In the similar way, for a healthy body it is very essential to have a healthy mouth. Oral health is very much necessary for overall health. We often tend to neglect some of the body parts but little do we realize that all body parts are connected to each other in some or the other way and care should be taken to keep them healthy.

In general, low-grade, persistent infections in the oral cavity and elsewhere drain immune strength and weaken health. Teeth and gums are not separate from the rest of the body, and dentistry should not be so separate from general medicine. Taking care of your teeth and gums is vital. Be sure to brush and floss daily and see your dentist regularly so that any problems can be detected and corrected.

The Harden family, the Oh family, friends and family all offer our prayers and God Bless Mrs. Oh who inspired this article.