Health & Fitness

Dr. Wood: Dental health connects to your overall health

Dr. Adam Poyfair of Puyallup talks to a patient about gum disease. Gum disease often goes hand in hand with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in adults.
Dr. Adam Poyfair of Puyallup talks to a patient about gum disease. Gum disease often goes hand in hand with diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease in adults. Olympian file photo

Remember the children’s song about your leg bone being connected to your knee bone? While that song describes how the bones in your body are connected, you could change some of the words to show how your dental health is connected to your overall health, and specifically to some chronic diseases.

Dental health is not just clean teeth and a bright smile. Your mouth is like a window into your body’s health.

Certain chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, can increase your risk of gum disease (in addition to other health issues), and gum disease can raise your risk of some chronic diseases. According to the American Dental Association (ADA) the following chronic diseases commonly occur with gum disease:

  • Diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Obesity

  • Stroke

While we don’t always know if gum disease or the chronic disease came first, there are things we can do to decrease the risk of both. We can 1) practice good oral hygiene and 2) adopt healthy behaviors to decrease the risk of chronic diseases. Each will help the other.

To practice good oral hygiene, follow the ADA Healthy Smile Tips, no matter your age:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste

  • Clean between your teeth daily (for example, by flossing)

  • Eat a healthy diet that limits sugary beverages and snacks

  • See your dentist regularly for prevention and treatment of oral disease

  • Avoid oral piercings, which can harbor bacteria

To decrease your risk of chronic disease, follow these healthy behaviors:

  • Quit smoking – or never start.

  • Eat healthy by choosing a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products

  • Get regular physical activity. Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week.

  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol. Talk to your health care provider about how much alcohol is safe for you.

  • Get screened. Visit your health care provider regularly for preventative check-ups.

  • Get enough sleep. Adults should aim for at least 7 hours a night.

  • Know your family history and share it with your health care provider.

  • Make healthy choices at school, work, and play. You can help prevent chronic diseases by making healthy behaviors part of your everyday life.

To learn more about how to keep your mouth and body healthy, visit: https://www.mouthhealthy.org/ or www.TheMightyMouth.org. In addition, the Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Department coordinates Living Well Thurston Chronic Disease Self-Management workshops for living a healthier life. For more information about these workshops, go to https://bit.ly/2tmFyxW, call 360-867-2515, or email PriceL@co.thurston.wa.us.

The Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Department participates in the Thurston County Local Impact Network, which is funded by Arcora Foundation. The network is working toward a common goal of improving health equity by reducing oral health disparities. You can learn more at https://bit.ly/2J6dCZo

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, woodr@co.thurston.wa.us, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.
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