The mouth has been recognized as a portal of entry for many infections that affect general health. Among these infections are the two leading oral diseases—caries (tooth decay) and periodontal disease (gum disease)—both of which remain some of the most prevalent and widespread health issues seen around the world today. Throughout the average lifespan, a majority of the population will experience some degree of one or both diseases, as well as a number of other complications that may arise if the diseases are left untreated.
Impact of Oral Diseases: Physical and Emotional Well-being
The overall consequences of both dental caries and periodontal disease are profound; however, these consequences are often underestimated in terms of quality and longevity of life. The side effects associated with these diseases—such as pain and/or eventual tooth loss—interferes with daily functions like breathing, eating, swallowing, speaking and even language development—which are all vital to health and development. Sleep deprivation, as a result of discomfort from the oral cavity, may affect cognitive abilities and performance at school or work, which ultimately promote social-economic ramifications. It is estimated that children lose more than 51 million school hours each year due to dental-related illnesses, and employed adults miss out on more than 164 million hours of work each year on account of oral diseases.
The pain associated with caries and periodontal disease often precipitates compromised masticatory functions (or the ability to chew and swallow certain foods). As a result, people who suffer from dental diseases tend to eat foods that have diminished nutritional content, which is an important determinant of overall health that is not often considered. The downstream effect eventually leads to loss of energy, altered mood, and a weakened immune system. Inadequate nutrition is also associated with an increased risk for periodontal disease, meaning there is implication for a bi-directional relationship between the two.
While psychological conditions, such as stress and depression, are linked to periodontal disease, we also recognize that people who suffer from these emotional disorders will usually have impaired oral hygiene to begin with—placing them at even greater risk for a number of oral diseases. Self-esteem is often undermined as a byproduct of these conditions, as verbal and non-verbal communications become restricted, and social interaction and intimacy are hindered as a result. This cascade of events often sets the stage for a self-replicating cycle that continues to undermine oral health and quality of life, especially in populations with limited access to healthcare.
Impact of Oral Disease on Overall Health
Today we know that the consequences of periodontal disease are not limited to the oral cavity. Although periodontal disease starts as a local infection in the mouth—certain gram negative, anaerobic bacteria and their associated toxins can gain access to the blood supply, and travel to organs distant to the oral cavity. At that point, not only will bacteria disseminate throughout the entire body, but it also creates a systemic inflammatory response, which may increase the risk for other conditions, such as heart disease, pneumonia, and type-2 diabetes.