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Oral Health: Mouth-Body Connection

Teeth and gums reveal the inside story of your overall health. Find out what your dentist knows about you.

Reviewed by Steve Drescher, DDS

Opening your mouth is somewhat like cracking open the hood of your car. An expert taking a quick look can get a good sense of what's working, what's not, and what should be tuned up regularly to keep your body's systems up and running at their best.

Your teeth and gums, it seems, may speak volumes about your well-being. For starters, there are conditions that affect oral health. Researchers continue to look at the associations between cavities, gum disease, and heart disease[1], but a cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been established. There are some disease that are associated with an increased risk of infections. Diabetes increases the risks of gingival and periodontal inflammation and infections.  Also, loose teeth could be a sign of osteoporosis[2].

What Your Dental Health Says About You[3]

It's easy to ignore the effects of poor oral hygiene because they're hidden in your mouth. But gum disease may point to problems with diabetes and heart disease and loose teeth could be a sign of osteoporosis. Could it be that a healthy mouth means more than just a sparkling smile? And what could your dentist learn about you the next time you open wide?

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When there's an underlying condition in play, your dentist may be able to draw an important connection between your oral health[4] and your overall health. So sit back, relax, and open wide. Here's what you need to know about the mouth-body connection.

Oral Health and Diabetes

Bleeding gums, dry mouth, fungal infections, cavities -- these oral signs might clue your dentist into a serious health issue: diabetes. And these symptoms also might suggest other serious conditions, such as HIV and leukemia.

"Diabetes is the one disease that we know can have a direct impact on infections in the bones and gums around the teeth," says Sally Cram, DDS, consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.

Diabetes and your mouth have blood sugar in common. If blood sugar levels are out of control in your body, they're out of control in your mouth. With sugar to feed on, bacteria find a happy home in which to grow and thrive.

A person with diabetes has more mouth woes to worry about: Uncontrolled diabetes reduces the body's first line of defense against infection, white blood cells, which can then put a person's oral health at risk. With bacteria teeming around the gums from high blood sugar levels, periodontal or gum disease is an easy next step.

Unfortunately, because diabetes lowers a person's resistance to infection, managing periodontal disease isn't easy.

"If you have diabetes and periodontal disease, you have to get your blood sugar levels under control for both the sake of your body and your mouth," says Cram.

Your dentist should be one of your best friends if you are among the 24 million Americans living with diabetes[5]. Frequent professional cleanings are important in helping to prevent or control periodontal disease, and home care requires flossing and brushing after every meal.

Oral Health and Heart Disease

If on your last visit to the dentist you were told you had gingivitis or gum inflammation, cavities, missing teeth, molar infections, and/or decay so severe it's left only the roots of a tooth, your dentist may say your mouth isn't the only thing being attacked.


  1. ^ heart disease (
  2. ^ osteoporosis (
  3. ^ What Your Dental Health Says About You (
  4. ^ oral health (
  5. ^ living with diabetes (

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