Oral Health and General Health

Printable version (pdf)

Poor oral health can affect appetite and the ability to eat, result in malnutrition, and hence compromise general health and well-being. Oral health is vital in that it often is a window into what is occurring in the rest of the body. General diseases can affect the mouth, e.g. diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and diabetes, and oral health can influence the other organs, e.g. diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and respiratory illness. To put it simply, whatever is put in the mouth has implications for the body and oral health.

Plaque is a sticky, soft film that builds up on the teeth and contains a variety of bacteria, saliva and food by-products. It plays a central role in the cause of dental decay, gingivitis (gum inflammation) and periodontitis (more severe form with bone loss). Recent evidence suggests that periodontitis may be associated with heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions.

Heart Disease

heartOral inflammation and bacteria associated with periodontitis may be associated with the development of heart disease. Oral bacteria may enter the bloodstream and attach to fatty deposits in the blood vessels of the heart. Another theory is that inflammatory proteins may enter the bloodstream and may stimulate inflammation in blood vessels. Both theories suggest that these conditions may lead to blood clots and contribute to heart disease.

biteIt is vital to maintain good oral health especially if you have a heart problem. You should make sure your dentist and hygienist know you have a heart problem. It is important to maintain good oral health by brushing twice and flossing once a day, and to ensure you are doing this adequately by having the teeth checked regularly by the dentist or hygienist. This should be supplemented by a healthy diet and regular exercise. If you smoke you are putting your health at increased risk and you should seek professional help to stop. (see smoking)

Lung Disease

Some respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia can arise from the inhalation of bacteria from the teeth and gums.


A diet with too much sugar and calories can cause obesity and dental decay. Diabetes may also affect your oral health, and your oral health may affect your diabetes. Gum disease can affect the control of diabetes, and conversely, diabetes has adverse effects on the blood vessels and immune response which can exacerbate severe gum disease.Studies show that gum disease may be more difficult to manage and /or eliminate in patients with diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes can result in periodontitis, tooth loss, thrush, (a fungal infection of the mouth), and dry mouth. Uncontrolled diabetes can be made worse by periodontitis.

Common risk factors

Common risk factors are things that can affect both the body and the mouth and cause damage to both.


Smoking can increase the likelihood of gum disease and oral cancer by up to seven times. The combined effects of tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and poor diet are thought to account for more than 90 per cent of cases of head and neck cancer.


Binge drinking can cause damage to teeth by wearing them away. Coupled with smoking, binge drinking drastically increases the chances of oral cancer.


Dental decay is caused by the same factors that can cause obesity. A high sugar diet often has a high calorific content and this causes obesity. (see diet section)


Stress and mental health can impact on the health of the gums. Regular oral examinations can enable early detection of eating disorders, as early signs include the wearing away of tooth enamel and swelling of the salivary glands.

Last updated: March 12, 2014

Scroll to top
Font Resize