photo provided
photo provided
Everybody wants a nice smile and clean teeth. But there’s a great deal more than that at stake in the health of your mouth.

Local dentists point out that what is going on in our mouth impacts our overall health and well-being. Studies are increasingly showing connections between oral health and serious health concerns. And what is going on in the rest of our body can also be reflected in our oral health.

“Your oral cavity is the gateway to the rest of your body,” said Amy Remick, office manager at Gilmore Dental. “There are no fences in your body.”

Dr. Denise Hicks of Central Oregon Dental Esthetics notes that inflammation in the mouth is linked to cardiovascular disease, arthritis and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease.

“Getting that (the mouth) healthy helps with everything else,” she said.

Discoloration in the gums, pain, swelling, a bad taste in the mouth and bleeding are all signs of compromised oral health and need attention from a dentist.

Dr. Trevor Frideres of Sisters Dental told The Nugget that the body can become “preoccupied” with fighting small infections in the mouth, compromising the immune system and the possibility that bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream. He notes that science points to the possibility that people with periodontal disease (an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place) have higher incidences of the kinds of systemic problems cited above.

The connection between oral health and well-being starts in the womb, Dr. Frideres notes. Mothers with periodontal disease tend to have higher rates of low birth-weight and/or pre-term babies.

The oral health of children is set quite early, too, Dr. Frideres says.

From birth to age two, “children pick up bacteria from whoever they are around most,” he told The Nugget.

Good bacteria, bad bacteria, inert bacteria – it’s all set right there at the beginning.

“That’s what you’re going to have for the rest of your life,” Dr. Frideres said.

That puts a premium on good oral health for parents, grandparents and caregivers, because it’s not just their own health at stake, but also that of a child.

Dr. Kaitlyn Traynor of Advantage Dental in Sisters notes that the equation operates in the other direction, too. Sometimes conditions as serious as HIV infection and hepatitis can be detected through the condition of a person’s mouth before they are otherwise diagnosed.

And people with chronic conditions may need to pay extra attention to their oral health.

“Patients who have Type 2 diabetes or who are on a bunch of different medications — that can affect their oral health,” she said.

Maintaining good oral health is relatively straightforward. Regular checkups and cleaning are critical, as is good dental hygiene at home — brushing and flossing. Taking time and paying attention to oral hygiene and health is important: There’s more at stake than your smile.