Our mouths are often viewed as a single body part—albeit a vital one—that fulfills a critical function. Although we usually don’t think it as being a part of something bigger and more important, it is. We have a mind-body connection and a mouth-body connection that needs to be nurtured. Unfortunately, there isn’t equal importance placed on both dental and medical health.

The Mouth Body Reality 

Problems in your mouth—the ones that seem unimportant on a larger scale—don’t stay in your mouth. In fact, they are important on a larger scale. Even “simple” cavities can be connected to your heart health, brain health, and microbiome. What several people fail to realize is that your teeth are precious organs that are imperative to the proper functioning of your entire body. What happens in your mouth doesn’t stay there. It will affect your body, too.

Gum disease and oral infections can complicate and cause an array of medical conditions. You can gain weight, experience dementia, or suffer from a stroke or heart attack. Bacteria can also affect diabetes, IBS, breast cancer, and arthritis. This list doesn’t even begin to cover the many more conditions that can be affected by mouth problems.

Related: Periodontal Disease: Taking Your Oral Health to Heart

Our bodies have built-in protections to keep vital organs, like our teeth, safe and healthy. We have a barrier between our teeth and gums and the rest of our bodies. However, this barrier can be broken down by our negligence. When your mouth is infected or inflamed, it slowly breaks the barrier and triggers disease and dysfunction in other parts of your body.

The reality of it is that many people don’t take good care of their mouths, and their bodies suffer because of that. If 60 percent of our population had diabetes, it would be deemed unacceptable, and actions would be taken. However, 60 percent of our population has gum disease, which triggers illness and disease throughout the body. Almost every other system in your body can be affected by the problems present in our mouths.

How Mouth Problems get to Other Parts of the Body

Our teeth are like well-anchored boats. Around each tooth are tight fibers which pull the gums snugly around the base of the tooth. Gums act as a tight seal, which have an important job: to keep other elements out. If said elements were able to pass through the mouth and into tissue, your immune system would immediately be in the middle of World War three.

In perfect conditions (a healthy mouth with zero infection), this seal would be tight. The gateway between the bloodstream and harmful mouth bacteria would be closed for business. If an infection is in your mouth, the seal is weakened, and outside elements can get past the gums. From then on, it’s all aboard the bloodstream express to other parts of your body.

An infection like this doesn’t sound all that harmful when you think about it, but it is serious business. It’s comparable to getting a cut on your skin. Your skin is a barrier, but now that it has been broken, things like dirt and bacteria can find its way in. When it gets into your bloodstream, everything from your head to your toes is fair game.

Once that main defense has been overcome, bacteria can travel to the rest of your body through the three I’s: infection, injury, and inflammation. Once bacteria is in your bloodstream, it can travel its merry way to any other site in the body. It can also decide to turn into something else entirely like exotoxins or proteins. These elements can further injure tissue and can have permanent consequences. To combat invading bacteria, your body will send out a full immune response. This response will raise your body temperature and produce an inflammatory reaction. Constant inflammation is caused by gum disease and bacteria continuously accessing your bloodstream.

As you can see, the mouth-body connection is real and important. It means that when you take good care of your oral health, you’re taking good care of the rest of your body, too.

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