Dental health is about more than just dental health. As the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America put it: “…oral health is integral to general health. You cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities.”
Not surprisingly, then, neglecting dental health can impact more than just teeth and gums. While a common perception is that poor dental health affects only the mouth, it has also been associated with a variety of general health conditions.
While there isn’t conclusive evidence that poor dental health causes these conditions, studies have linked certain dental conditions, such as periodontal gum disease, to stroke and bacterial pneumonia.
The link between poor dental health and heart disease is particularly strong. For instance, a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation suggests that gum disease may increase the risk of heart attack by almost 50%. And in the same issue of the journal, it was reported that there’s increasing evidence for an association between gum and heart disease.
For women who are pregnant, poor oral health may affect not only their health but the health of their babies as well. For instance, a 2016 study found a possible link between gum disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including premature deliveries and babies with low weight at birth.
Oral health issues can also be symptoms of serious health conditions. For example, dry mouth, bad breath, gum disease and new or slow-to-heal dental infections may indicate untreated diabetes. Patches or numbness in the mouth, jaw pain or difficulty chewing may signal oral cancer.
Access to dental care, then, is important not only for maintaining healthy teeth and gums but for maintaining overall wellness and ensuring that no other, more serious health issues are present.
A key to this access is having dental benefits. People who have dental benefits are not only more likely to visit the dentist than people without them, but they’re also more likely take their children to the dentist, according to a National Association of Dental Plans (NADP) report. The report also notes that these people experience greater overall health than people without dental insurance.
The cost of skipping this care is significant. Each dollar spent on preventive dental care can save as much as $50 later on costly restorative treatments, such as fillings and crowns. And each year, $45 billion is lost in productivity due to dental disease, according to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So when discussing dental health, remember — it’s about much more than dental health.