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  • Writer's pictureJo Soria

Don’t Brush Off That Dental Cleaning: How Oral Health Affects Your Total Body Health

According to DentaVox—a dental health research platform—Americans are harboring a dirty little secret: about 67% of people lie to their dentist about their oral hygiene habits. However, medical experts warn that inadequate dental care can have heavier consequences for our overall health.

Woman smiling at camera; oral health; dental hygiene

Dental Dishonesty and the Truth About Oral Health

So what are we lying to our dentists about, and how is our dental hygiene connected to our physical health? That 2020 DentaVox survey also revealed that:

  • 23% of people weren’t telling the truth about brushing their teeth twice a day

  • 20% of people lied about using proper brushing techniques

  • 20% of people lied about flossing

Additionally, about 27% of survey respondents reported lying to their dentist because they were embarrassed about their oral hygiene.

Clearly, dental health is a sensitive and potentially embarrassing subject for many Americans. But beyond the issue of self-image, a more profound problem lurks when our oral health slips through the cracks.

“A Window Into Your Overall Health”

According to the Mayo Clinic, dental health should be more than a cosmetic concern. As a “window into our overall health,” oral health is intertwined with general health, and the state of our mouths, teeth, and gums can reveal certain clues about other interconnected systems in our bodies.

Let’s look at some key ways our oral health influences us and what it reveals about our long-term well-being.

Dental and Digestive Health

The digestive system—and good digestive health—starts with the mouth. And there’s a good reason for that: it’s a finely tuned frontline of chemical and mechanical processes.

The Gateway to Your Body

We rely on strong, healthy teeth and the enzymes within our saliva to grind up and break down the foods we eat, making them easier for the body to absorb.

Problems can arise when we’re unable to chew our food properly or enough. Missing teeth, cavities and abscesses, misaligned teeth or jaws, or even just taking too large a bite while eating can all disrupt our ability to properly break down food before sending it down the esophagus. The acids in our stomach can’t do it all!

Gut Feeling

Just as our gut is home to a complex microbiome of trillions of bacteria, so is our mouth. And just as our gut microbiome relies on “good bacteria” to keep pathogens and harmful microbes in check, the mouth also depends on balance within its microbial communities.

A healthy oral microbiome is critical for fighting conditions like periodontal (gum) disease, which studies show may be linked to more serious systemic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer.

Dental Health and the Immune System

Food isn’t the only thing that enters your body through your mouth; harmful bacteria and pathogens can get in that way, too. Depending on how you care for it, your mouth can respond to invading bacteria like a golden retriever or a German shepherd.

(Don’t get us wrong, we adore the Goldens. But your immune system really needs a guard dog in this case.)

Dentist looking at dental x-rays; oral health; dental hygiene

Oral Infections

When your mouth is healthy, it can offer a frontline defense for the rest of your immune system, but poor oral health can lower your resistance to infection. When our bodies have to commit more resources to fight an infection in the mouth, fewer immune cells are left to respond to other health issues in the body. Even worse, oral infections can spread to other systems and areas of the body.

Dental Health and the Heart

Another sobering fact: according to Harvard Medical School, the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other critical cardiac event is two to three times higher for people with periodontal disease. Researchers are still studying the extent to which oral and cardiovascular diseases are linked, given the fact that the connection could also be due to shared risk factors like smoking or poor nutrition.

The chronic inflammation caused by periodontal disease or other infections can also put us at a higher risk for diseases like diabetes, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Woman laughing; oral health; dental hygiene

Dental Health Warning Signs

Regular hygiene—like daily brushing, flossing, and balanced nutrition—plus routine professional dental care is about more than just a pretty smile; it’s critical for your total health.

Signs of an oral health problem may include:

  • Bad breath or bad taste in mouth

  • Dry mouth or metallic taste

  • Tooth hypersensitivity or pain

  • Loose or darkening teeth

  • Increased plaque or tartar

  • Mouth sores or ulcers that won’t heal

  • Red, swollen, tender, or bleeding gums

  • Receding gums

  • Tonsillitis

  • Jaw pain or clicking jaw

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. Schedule an exam and check your oral health. Most importantly, don’t give up or lose hope. Many dental health problems can be addressed with the help of a good dentist and a focused care plan. You can get back on track toward dental and overall well-being.


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