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.