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What your teeth can tell you about your overall health

Your oral health can be more telling than you might think.

We all know how important it is to maintain good oral health through regular brushing and limiting sugary foods in your diet.

And it’s no surprise that untreated oral and dental diseases can result in severe pain, loss of sleep, inability to eat certain foods and embarrassment – all things that can affect your physical and mental health.

But did you also know that the health of your teeth and gums can be indicative of what’s going on inside your body generally? Experts are increasingly understanding the complex relationship between oral and general health, finding that oral health issues are linked to chronic conditions, including diabetes and possibly heart disease.

Periodontal disease explained

Chronic periodontal disease (gum disease) is one of the most common oral health conditions in Australia, and is characterised by inflammation of the tissue around the tooth, including the gums and bones. There are two main stages of gum disease:

  • Gingivitis – where dental plaque builds up on teeth, particularly where the gum joins the tooth
  • Periodontitis – where pockets form between the gum and tooth that fill with bacteria leading to inflammation

Gum disease affects most people at some stage in their life and can have an impact on general health outcomes.

Diabetes

Research has found those affected by diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease — which may be due to diabetes placing sufferers at an increased risk of infection. However, interestingly, studies also indicate the relationship between these two conditions may work both ways, with one study of 9,000 Americans finding that the presence of periodontal disease could be a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Further supporting the association, periodontal disease has also been found to worsen symptoms of diabetes by affecting the body’s ability to control blood glucose levels.

Cardiovascular disease

Some studies have linked periodontal disease to cardiovascular disease, however while a connection is suspected by experts, more evidence is needed to establish the link. Initial research suggests that the ongoing presence of bacteria and inflammation in the gums — typical of periodontal disease — could lead to bacteria and inflammation travelling to other parts of the body, causing adverse health effects such as heart disease. However, more research is required in order to fully understand exactly how these two conditions are linked.

Why is there a connection between oral health and general health?

We can see that poor oral health — particularly the presence of periodontal disease — can contribute to wider health issues, with diabetes, heart disease just a few of the health effects associated with the condition. But while these links have been observed, more research is required in order to fully understand how each of these health issues are connected to periodontal disease, and to what extent.

Think you might be suffering from an oral health issue?

If you think you might be living with an oral health condition such as periodontal disease, pay the dentist a visit to get it checked out. Medibank offers members with extras cover 100% back on your annual dental check-up and clean at any Members’ Choice dentist (excluding x-rays), once your two-month waiting period has passed. That’s on top of your annual limit, so you can get your clean no matter how much dental work you’ve already claimed.


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