Critical Connections: Five Facts About Oral Health’s Influence on the Body

Two New DentaQuest Partnership Infographics Illuminate the Critical Role of Oral Health

Slowly, the siloes are breaking down.

Oral care is often isolated from the rest of the health care system and from conversations about overall health — even though studies show more than 90% of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations.

But, slowly, that’s starting to change.

“We have different payment mechanisms for medicine and dentistry, which makes it easy to think of the mouth in a different way than the rest of the body,” said Julie Frantsve-Hawley, PhD, CAE, Director of Analytics and Evaluation at the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement. “But in reality, the two are undeniably linked.”

That reality is taking hold among the health community, as connections between oral health and overall health continue to strengthen in research and practice. A healthy mouth is, in fact, a critical step on the path to a healthy body. Where, though? Where, exactly, can a healthy mouth influence a healthy body?

To answer that question (hint: the answer is “everywhere!”), the DentaQuest Partnership created two new infographics — “Impacts Beyond the Mouth” and “Getting to the Heart of It.” Both are filled with research, evidence and talking points for patients, providers and policy makers.

“We wanted to be able to share the message about the myriad of ways that oral health can impact overall health, and stress the importance of good oral health,” said Hawley.

Here’s a sampling of five ways oral health can influence overall health:

1. Respiratory Health: Patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) who engaged in regular toothbrushing spent significantly less time on mechanical ventilation than other VAP patients.

2. Adverse Birth Outcomes: Gum disease among pregnant women is associated with preterm births, low birthweight babies and preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that can cause organ damage and can be fatal.

3. Diabetes: Diabetes raises the risk of developing gum disease by 86%.

4. Stroke: People with gum disease are 3 times more likely to have a stroke involving blood vessels in the back of the brain, which controls vision and other bodily functions.

5. Blood pressure: People who delayed dental care during their teens and early adult years are more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure.

“All of the points are vitally important,” said Hawley. “Oral health plays a large role in overall health, and this is not widely appreciated.”

The trend to replace oral health isolation with oral health integration — both within our health system and within our bodies — won’t happen overnight, but the more we understand and share about the importance of healthy mouths, the closer we’ll get to a care system that focuses on the whole person.

“Addressing oral health needs does so much more than just make the mouth healthy,” said Hawley. “It makes the person healthy, too.”