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Oral and Dental Health: Is there a link between oral health and overall health and wellness?

Published:Monday | October 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Lauren Goldson (left) and Alecia Lewis, both dental hygienist students, attending to a patient at UTech's College of Oral Health Sciences on March 7, 2015.

The World Health Organization defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

Concurrently, one's oral health also plays a big role in the achievement of this overall well-being.

Optimal oral health is achieved when the mouth is free from pain, cancer, sores, birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, gum disease, cavities, tooth loss or any other disease or condition that can affect the proper function of the oral cavity.




When we consider oral health, most of us think of our mouths and the prevention of conditions associated with the mouth, such as bad breath, cavities, etc. We seldom relate oral health to our overall quality of life. The reality is that, in many cases, the condition of our mouth is a reflection of the overall health of our entire body.

Studies have shown links between poor gum health and conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature labour and low birth weight.


Oral Health and Diabetes


It is common knowledge that diabetics are more susceptible to developing gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) than non-diabetics. However, persistent gum disease can make diabetes difficult to control as the prolonged inflammation/infection often results in insulin resistance and increased blood sugar levels.


Oral Health and Cardiovascular Disease


It is believed that bacteria associated with gum disease can also cause inflammation throughout the body, increasing the formation of arteriosclerotic plaques in the major blood vessels. This can cause stroke and/or heart attack.

The more severe the gum disease, the greater the risk of heart attack and stroke.


Pregnancy and Oral Health


Hormonal changes along with dietary changes during pregnancy, results in increased susceptibility to gum disease and cavities. It is important that pregnant mothers schedule routine dental hygiene visits during pregnancy to ensure optimal gum health is maintained.

Untreated oral infections during pregnancy have been linked to:

- Premature birth: It is believed that oral infections can cause a pregnant woman to produce labour-triggering substances resulting in premature birth.

- Low birth weight: Scientists also believe that bacteria in the mouth release toxins which travel through the blood stream to the placenta and interfere with the growth and development of the fetus.


Recommended Practices


- Brush teeth at least two times daily with a soft-bristled toothbrush. Medium- and hard-bristled toothbrushes have been linked to gum recession and tooth enamel wear, which can result in sensitive teeth and, in severe cases, toothache and tooth loss.

- Keep toothbrush and other instruments entering the mouth clean. Rinse toothbrush thoroughly after brushing, store in an upright position. Avoid keeping it covered for prolonged periods as moist environment encourages bacterial growth.

- Use a fluoride-containing toothpaste. Research shows that fluoride in certain concentrations strengthen the tooth enamel, aiding in cavity prevention.

- Schedule routine dental examination and cleaning visits. The American Dental Association recommends every six months. This is also my recommendation.

- Contact your dentist if you experience any signs or symptoms which may suggest that there is a problem with your oral health, for example, bad breath, bleeding gums, shaky or discoloured teeth, etc.

Good oral hygiene, along with early detection and treatment of diseases of the gum, teeth and mouth, will not only contribute to a lifetime of good oral health, but will also go a far way in helping to improve one's quality of life.

- Dr Jillian Gooden, DDS, practises at Dental Group Associates, 17 Ripon Road, Kingston 5. Email: or