Ask a Doc: Mouth and Body Connection

September 21, 2015

The Mouth/Body Connection…

  • Poor oral care may result in 2 times the risk of dying from a heart attack!
  • Drinking regular soda leads to 62% more tooth decay.
  • You produce enough saliva in a lifetime to fill 2 swimming pools!
Dear Doc,

I was recently at the dentist and he asked me questions about my general health. I was asked about diabetes and heart disease. What do my teeth have to do with my general health?

Teeth are like the TV remote, electricity and indoor plumbing. We take them for granted and only realize how important they are when they aren't working correctly. Dogs have 42 teeth, pigs have 44 teeth, an armadillo has 104 teeth, while humans have 20 primary teeth that eventually give way to 32 permanent teeth. Interestingly, giraffes only have bottom teeth. No two people have the same set of teeth; they are as unique as fingerprints. The enamel on the top surface of a tooth is the hardest part of the body.

In recent years, studies have shown that poor oral health can put your overall health at risk. Your mouth, like many other parts of the body, is home to many bacteria. With daily brushing and flossing these bacteria can be kept under control. (If you don't floss, you miss cleaning 40% of your tooth surface!) Without proper oral care, bacteria builds up and reacts with sugar and starch in the diet to form acids and toxins that decay teeth and inflame gums. Over time, severe gum disease may develop, resulting in inflammation that eats away at gums and the boney structures that hold teeth in place. This is known as periodontitis. Gum disease is the most common chronic inflammatory condition in the world.

People who drink three or more glasses of soda each day have 62% more tooth decay. The average person brushes for 45 to 70 seconds each day, short of the recommended 2 to 3 minutes. Saliva washes away food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. Your mouth produces over 25,000 quarts of saliva in a lifetime, enough to fill two swimming pools. More people use blue tooth brushes than red ones.

Though not completely understood, there is a link between heart disease and gum disease. Up to 91% of patients with heart disease have periodontitis. A University of North Carolina Dentistry study found that people with gum disease were two times as likely as others to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to have a stroke! The link is thought to be due to the inflammation. When there is significant inflammation in the mouth, inflammation of blood vessels in other parts of the body may develop. The theory is that inflamed blood vessels become blocked, restricting the flow of oxygen and key nutrients to vital organs, resulting in heart attacks and strokes.

Ongoing inflammation in your mouth can also allow bacteria to enter your blood stream. This may lead to severe infections in other parts of your body, such as your heart. Poor oral care makes it harder to control blood sugars in diabetic patients. Periodontitis has been linked to premature birth and low birth weight. Poor oral care has also been linked to osteoporosis, weak and brittle bones. Poor oral care has also been linked to common respiratory ailments such as pneumonia and emphysema.

Dental humor: What did the dentist get for an award? A little plaque...

Stay healthy. Avoid gum disease and possible other serious health issues by brushing, flossing and visiting the dentist regularly!

Smile when reading the quote by Paul Merton, "I'm always amazed to hear of air crash victims so badly mutilated that they have to be identified by their dental records. What I can't understand is, if they don't know who you are, how do they know who your dentist is?"

Nagpaul_arunDr. Nagpaul is a medical doctor and is board-certified in Internal Medicine. He currently is the Medical Director at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, DeMay Living Center and Wayne County Public Health. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider. To send questions, please email Dr. Nagpaul at and put “Ask a Doc” in the subject line.

About Rochester Regional Health

Rochester Regional Health is an integrated health services organization serving the people of Western New York, the Finger Lakes and beyond. The system includes 150 locations: five hospitals; more than 100 primary and specialty practices, rehabilitation centers and ambulatory campuses; innovative senior services, facilities and independent housing; a wide range of behavioral health services; and ACM Medical Laboratory, a global leader in patient and clinical trials. Rochester Regional Health, the region’s second-largest employer, was named one of “America’s Best Employers” by Forbes in 2015. Learn more at