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The mouth-body connection: How oral health and overall health may be connected

J. Fraser

The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body -- both anatomically, and as researchers are finding out, to the health and well-being of the body.

This week on “Take Care,” we talk to Dr. Thomas Salinas, a professor of dentistry at the Mayo Clinic, about how the health of our mouth, teeth and gums affects our entire body.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Thomas Salinas.

Dr. Salinas says that many relationships between the oral cavity and the rest of the body are starting to come to light, but the nature of those relationships, is still not always clear. But, he says, various medical specialties are researching the links.

“The biggest connection that we’re seeing is certain systemic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, have tooth loss patterns associated with them,” Dr. Salinas said.

But one of the mysteries of the connection is cause and effect. Does poor dental health cause systemic diseases and vice versa? Not necessarily, says Dr. Salinas.

For example, some people are genetically more likely to get diseases, leaving them more susceptible to everything, including cavities and gingivitis.

But in some cases, like coronary artery disease, the body’s disorder can actually cause tooth loss. And sometimes a pattern a dentist sees in the mouth, like certain tooth loss, can be a sign a particular disease is present, says Dr. Salinas.

Dr. Salinas says that seeing a dentist regularly can help you detour diseases from the start. It’s recommended that adults see a dentist every six months, and have regular tooth cleanings and dental x-rays.

Brushing our teeth, flossing, and going to the dentist may seem like simple things. But, researchers say it could impact more than just your smile.