Research confirms a correlation between a patients’ oral health and overall health, or what we call The Mouth-Body Connection (MBC). We now understand what happens in the mouth can also indicate—and in some cases affect—systemic conditions throughout the body.
In 2000, the surgeon general wrote in “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General” that “oral health is integral to general health.”  This statement ignited over two decades of research exploring the link between bacteria and inflammation in our mouths and their impact on the rest of our bodies. The resulting discoveries leave little doubt that the presence of gum disease is associated with higher risks of other severe health conditions.
The growing research surrounding the MBC has changed how we practice dentistry. Let’s take a closer look at gum disease, inflammation, how the MBC impacts dentistry, and what we are changing in our operations to address this critical oral health issue.
What Are Inflammation and Gum Disease?
Inflammation is the body’s response to infection. It happens when white blood cells protect the body from pathogens, like bacteria or viruses. As the white blood cells do their job, the blood flow to the area increases, which triggers redness, warmth, swelling, and in some cases pain. Inflammation can be acute, meaning it goes away after a short time, or chronic in that it lasts months or even years. Many systemic conditions link to chronic inflammation, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease. 
Periodontal (gum) disease is the body’s response to inflammation caused by bacteria in the mouth. The inflammation increases when poor oral hygiene or inconsistent dental care habits at home allow oral pathogens (bacteria) to thrive, which can lead to deterioration along the gum line along with other gum issues, like redness, swelling, and bleeding. Left untreated patients can suffer bone loss, loose teeth, or even tooth loss. 
The Impact of Periodontal (Gum) Disease
The answer to the question, “Does poor oral hygiene cause diabetes?” is no because research has not established a causal link between the two. In fact, the ADA specifies that a causal link for the effects of periodontal disease on overall health conditions is elusive, and another factor might be the reason for the strong association between them. 
However, the answer to the question, “Is poor oral hygiene linked to inflammation in the body?” is yes because of two factors: inflammation and congregation. First, chronic inflammation in the mouth from gum disease increases the inflammatory marker levels in the bloodstream, which triggers an immune response and amplifies the demand for the body’s resources that fight off disease. Second, the pathogens that cause gum disease enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body where they can end up influencing disease elsewhere, like the heart, or through a systemic condition, such as diabetes. 
How Does The MBC Impact Dentistry?
Dental professionals usually see patients every six months—something few physicians do—. Therefore, they are in a unique position to identify and treat infections in the mouth and check for the common systemic conditions associated with them. As oral health experts, dental professionals should assess patients for oral pathogenic conditions often correlated to systemic diseases.
Educating patients about the MBC is also essential. Taking the time to explain how what happens in the mouth can also affect the rest of the body helps patients understand and appreciate the importance of maintaining excellent oral health. If patient education can lead to more patients agreeing to move forward with treating gum disease, dental professionals can improve the patient’s oral health and, potentially, their overall health, too.
Dental professionals should also consider screening for related overall health conditions that have not traditionally been part of the dental patient care routine. Little changes in what happens when the patient is in the chair could help identify related systemic conditions that might not yet be diagnosed by the patient’s medical team. For example, taking the patient’s blood pressure and measuring the heart rate at each visit is a simple operational change that can serve this effort.
The MBC Is Changing How PDS Operates
We value the significance of these connections and our role to support our patients oral and overall health to the best of our ability. Integrating oral healthcare and systemic health could facilitate a seamless, comprehensive healthcare system focused on whole body health.
That’s why the MBC and its connection to overall health is changing how our supported practices deliver patient care during patient visits. We are introducing new processes, procedures, and technologies in our supported practices that address this connection and how oral health can affect patient’s overall health.
PDS envisions a future of dental-medical integration. We are implementing processes and technologies to close the gap between a patient’s dental and medical care. For example, our supported practices use the EPIC practice management system, the software employed by many medical care providers, enabling easier patient health record integration between dental and medical teams.
We have also developed dental and medical integrated offices, where dental teams and medical teams share the same brick and mortar location. These practice setups demonstrate what is possible between the two areas of patient care, and we have plans to open more in the future.
For our supported practices, we know these changes in our operations and how we practice are worth the effort. This integrated healthcare approach can lead to enhancing our delivery of patient care, elevating the patient experience, and improving our ability to provide personalized treatment, all of which are critical values for our organization.
Want to learn more about the Mouth-Body Connection?
 Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. Nidcr.nih.gov. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-10/hck1ocv.%40www.surgeon.fullrpt.pdf. Published 2000. (Accessed January 24, 2022.)
 Inflammation. webmd.com. https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/about-inflammation#091e9c5e800a707d-1-1 . Published 2020. (Accessed July 2, 2022.)
 Periodontal Disease (2013) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/conditions/periodontal-disease.html (Accessed: 18 October 2023).
[4, 5] Oral Systemic Health. Ada.org. https://www.ada.org/resources/research/science-and-research-institute/oral-health-topics/oral-systemic-health . Published 2019. (Accessed January 24, 2022.)
The information provided by Pacific Dental Services in this blog is intended to educate readers about oral health and related topics. However, it is not a substitute for professional advice or career guidance from a qualified dental professional or educator. It is important to seek the help of experts for any concerns related to oral health or career planning.