Dr. Reinhold Voll, the German physician whose work provides a good deal of the foundation of biological dentistry, famously observed that 90% of all physical illness can be traced to the mouth.
Instantly, you might be thinking of things like mercury amalgam fillings, root canal teeth, and cavitations. After all, these are some of the most common situations that lead people to discover biological dentistry in the first place.
But the unintended consequences of conventional dental procedures are just one of the ways in which conditions in the mouth affect the body. Dental health in general – or the lack of it – also impacts overall health.
We’ve talked about this before with respect to periodontal disease. For nearly 50 years, we’ve been aware of the relationship between gum health and heart health, and modern research has identified even more perio-systemic connections. Today, we know that gum disease goes along with a host of other inflammatory conditions: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and more – even some cancers.
In fact, recent research suggests that poor dental health may actually shorten your life span.
The study, published last spring in Scientific Reports, analyzed data from over 76,000 French adults with no history of heart disease or cancer. Each received a medical and dental exam, and were followed up on a few years later.
Its authors found that the more signs of poor oral health – plaque and calculus buildup, inflamed gums, missing teeth – the higher the risk of death.
All-cancer mortality was positively associated with dental plaque and gingival inflammation. Non-cardiovascular and non-cancer mortality were also positively associated with high dental plaque, high gingival inflammation, >10 missing teeth and functional masticatory units <5 [i.e., fewer than 5 functional teeth].
All-cause mortality risk was raised for those with the latter conditions, as well.
Why should this be the case? For one, tooth loss most often occurs due to advanced gum disease which, again, goes hand-in-hand with other chronic health problems.
More, tooth loss can, in turn, contribute to poor nutrition. Simply, a lot of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods can be quite hard to eat if you lack teeth or don’t have partials or dentures that fit properly. (This is far less of an issue when the fit is good.)
Then there’s the matter of dysbiosis in the mouth – an imbalance of healthy and harmful bacteria. If hygiene is poor, pathogens can easily take over, and those bacteria don’t necessarily stay confined to the mouth. Some of the most intriguing research on the perio-systemic link has shown how “oral” bacteria can turn up in the hearts of those with cardiovascular issues, for instance, or in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.
Ultimately, it can become quite a vicious cycle. For just as poor oral health can drag down overall, so, too, poor physical health can show up through dental problems.
The good news? Treating the oral disease may improve related systemic conditions. Just this past fall, research presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association suggested that periodontal treatment alone was enough to help lower blood pressure. This month, a new study in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology confirmed that perio treatment can improve glycemic control in patients with diabetes.
But the best news in all of this? All these oral-systemic problems are largely preventable. Take care of your teeth, you take care of your body; take care of your body, you take care of your teeth. It may just “raise your risk” of living a healthy, happy, longer life.