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SYSTEMIC HEALTH ORAL HEALTH CONNECTION

How Dry Mouth Effects Your Health

By Jeffrey W. Cash, DDS

How Dry Mouth Effects Your Health

For some people, just having a chronically dry mouth can be more than an irritating discomfort.  How dry mouth effects your health may hold some surprises for you.  Understandably, every part of our body effects, influences, and contributes in some way to our overall health.  The mouth is no different.   A breakdown in your oral health can contribute to pain, infection, difficulty eating, and speaking.  While these are the immediately noticeable, research in the last few decades has uncovered a link between our oral health and general health.  Lets take a look at some of them.

It All Starts in the Mouth

 The process of digestion and getting proper nutrition begins as soon as food enters our mouth.  Our teeth grind up our food to make it easier for the rest of the digestive tract to get the valuable vitamins and minerals our body needs to survive.  Saliva plays an important role in this process.

Although saliva’s composition is predominantly water, it also contains digestive enzymes, proteins and lysozymes that begin breaking down your food right away and protect against some bacteria and viruses.  Also, as our meal is mixed with saliva, proteins called “mucins” coat the food to create a slippery sticky mass so it can be swallowed.  Without the help of saliva, the whole digestive process gets off to a challenging start.

 Saliva’s Link to Other Health Issues

Advancements in research has shown that poor oral health and the lack of an adequate salivary flow can contribute to a number of health issues.  A breakdown in oral health contributes to gum disease, heart disease, pulmonary disease, low birth weights.

How Does This Happen?

As mentioned above, there are components of saliva that fight bacteria and viruses. Without that, our body is slightly more open to “invasion” by them.

Gum Disease has been demonstrated to be more present in people suffering with dry mouth.  Without the protective and cleansing benefits saliva provides, the tissues of the mouth become inflamed chronically.  It is this inflammation that researchers are starting to discover connections to more systemic problems.

Bacterial endocarditis is a condition where bacteria enter the blood stream and are able to colonize or “vegetate” on the heart valves.  These clumps of bacteria are most often staphylococci (staph) and streptococci (strep) and make the valves not function properly.  As a result, if part or all of the clump becomes dislodged, it can travel out into the body causing more damage, including a stroke.

Cardiovascular disease is also implicated in people with poor oral health issues.  Tissue in the mouth will become inflamed without proper care or extended dryness.  While the process by which this contributes is not fully known at this time, there are studies that show oral inflammation and bacteria could be linked.

Pulmonary disease is also a factor that oral dryness can contribute to.  Of the many functions of saliva; lubricating, flushing, and cleaning the mouth of food are important.  Without this cleaning benefit, leftover food or debris sometimes breaks free and is inhaled.  If this happens, the possibility of aspiration pneumonia developing cannot be overlooked.  This is not uncommon in our senior citizen population.

Low birth weights as well as pre-term delivery have shown to have a link with poor oral hygiene and gum disease.  Again, one such study revealed that oral inflammation was a contributing factor to these unfortunate events.

Management

Many of the medical issues that arise from oral dryness and poor oral hygiene are manageable.  It is important to see your physician and dentist on a regular basis.  If you or your health care team notice problems or symptoms, working together as a team should reduce or possibly eliminate your risk factors resulting in better overall health.

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