We hear of death caused by all sorts of reasons – viruses, heart disease, cancer – but rarely is death ever attributed to infected teeth. That is because infection in the mouth can be an indirect and silent killer.
For some people it can be the primary and contributing cause of heart disease. Infection from an abscessed tooth or from advanced bone disease in the mouth travels through the veins and arteries, eventually affecting the lining of the heart. The compromised heart then is unable to do its job and fails.
Death by toothache is a shocking idea, but the purpose of this article is not to scare you or make you feel like that cavity in your mouth is going to lead to sudden death.
The primary purpose here is to educate you on the importance of having an infection-free mouth, especially if you have heart disease, diabetes, joint replacements and/or transplants. An infection of the mouth doesn’t just stay in the mouth any more than flesh-eating bacteria is contained in the wound so it’s important to see your oral health as part of your overall health.
My goal with this column is to begin the conversation as medicine increasingly moves to a holistic approach to health. Education is always the key to changing conventional thinking and to provide people with the tools they need to stay as healthy as possible. Here are some of the ways that infection in your mouth can affect your overall health.
Pathogenic bacteria from the mouth, which has the ability to travel through the blood may cause the following problems:
• Cardiovascular disease – Infection from the mouth spills bacteria into the blood stream. This bacteria collects on inflamed and or clogged arteries increasing the chance of blockage.
- Diabetes – High blood sugar feeds the bacteria in the mouth creating and explosion of more bacteria and more infection. Bacteria in the blood stream decreases the body’s ability to maintain proper insulin needed to control diabetes.
- Joint replacements and implants – Bacteria from the mouth attach to the foreign bodies and cause destruction.
- Pregnancy – Oral bacteria penetrate the placenta and cause abortion or premature babies.
If you have a history of heart disease in your family, it only makes sense for an internist to order periodic blood test and even go so far as to test the health/age of your arteries. Science is proving that oral infections can be as dangerous as bad cholesterol. Does that mean a dentist should be involved when patients have had or have a high risk for the above diseases or conditions? Should doctors be requiring a wellness check from a dentist as an additional screen to accompany a blood test? Considering the connection between oral and cardiovascular health, this only makes sense.
If we wait until the dental and medical schools and or professional organizations come together on this issue, it may be too late to help many people who unknowingly might be at risk.
On the other hand, if you educate yourself about the topics in this column and share your thoughts with your dentist and doctor, maybe the way we look at our health care will change. I have been in the health care business for 43 years and have learned beyond a shadow of doubt that health care professionals should be coordinating health screenings and treatments for the benefit of our mutual patients.
Prevention is the most effective and economical way to be and stay healthy. If you are someone who understands or is beginning to understand how your oral health is related to your overall health, then I invite you to call my office and schedule a wellness check to learn more about your dental status.