Back in the day, a trip to the dentist meant a routine cleaning, x-rays, and filling a cavity if needed. Not much more was expected. So much has changed in dentistry in the past decade. Of course we still offer the basic cleanings, evaluations, and maintenance. But nowadays, a visit to the dentist is so much more.

Many dentists now offer numerous cosmetic procedures from teeth whitening to complete smile makeovers. But more importantly, a skilled dentist now brings extensive knowledge of the oral/systemic link. The dental profession is at the forefront of educating patients about the connection between oral health and health of the body. The mouth acts as an indicator of health in the overall body and can even alert us to possible diseases waiting to strike within the body.

For example, dentists are now very aware of the strong link between periodontitis and diabetes. Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease in which the gum begins to pull away from the teeth. Pockets form between the teeth and gums and these pockets fill with bacteria. People with diabetes are more likely to have oral health problems because they are generally more susceptible to bacterial infection and have a decreased ability to fight bacteria that invade the gums. Additionally, gum disease is more likely to affect blood glucose levels and contribute to the progression of diabetes. The relationship between diabetes and gum disease goes both ways. It is hard to say whether one causes the other. But both conditions seem to feed off each other and create further health problems.

Research also suggests a possible relationship between periodontal disease and cardiovascular problems. The theory is that bacteria in the mouth that cause periodontal disease get into the bloodstream, causing inflammation of the blood vessels. This can lead to heart disease, stroke, or endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart.)

Pregnant women are also more susceptible to oral health problems that can also affect the baby in utero. Progesterone levels increase during pregnancy and may cause bacteria to increase and gum tissue to be more sensitive to plaque. This exaggerates the body’s response to the toxins that result from plaque. Due to these fluctuating hormones, pregnant women are more likely to contract periodontitis. In fact, 50-70% of pregnant women will develop inflammation of the gums, which is early stage periodontitis. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight babies.

Finally, the dental world is now well aware that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is correlated with oral cancer and is now the leading cause of this terrible disease. I have written an entire article on this topic.

As science and knowledge of the body evolves, new information is suggesting that oral health may also be connected to osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and HIV, although the evidence is not yet conclusive.

Separating oral health from general health is obsolete. It is no longer acceptable. In the past the dental and medical fields have been largely compartmentalized. Even today, oral disease assessment is not strongly ingrained in medical students. Luckily, dentistry is bridging the gap.

Gone are the days of simply going to your dentist for a cleaning. Today, we can alert you to major health problems, offer an earlier diagnosis than any time in history, and offer suggestions for treatment of “non-dental” illnesses as soon as possible.

The oral/systemic link is the most important aspect of modern dentistry. As my patient, you will receive my knowledge. I use innovative tools and technology to offer you an accurate look at your overall health that can prevent disease in your body. Learn more about the oral systemic link and watch a video here: