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Q
Does Poor Dental Health Determine Overall Health?

Do you routinely ask patients about their dental health? I'm told that it is the key to good health.

A
Answer (Published 5/28/2004)

I do ask patients about any problems that they may have with their teeth or gums, and dental health is one of the keys to good health, but I don't believe that it is the key. There is evidence that some dental problems may impact general health, most importantly the risk of heart disease and stroke. One of the first studies linking the two was published online in the journal Stroke on July 31, 2003. It showed that the more teeth a person has lost, the more likely he or she is to have both advanced periodontal infections and potentially clogging plaques in the carotid arteries that supply the brain.

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Conceivably, oral health may contribute to heart disease through the inflammatory process, and perhaps because of inadequate nutritional intake. If you don't have teeth, you can't chew food well and may not get adequate amounts of heart-healthy nutrients and fiber. Research suggests that people with poor oral health should have cardiac exams even if they have no symptoms of heart disease.

There is also preliminary evidence that gum disease poses an increased risk of having a preterm, low birth-weight baby and makes it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar levels. All of these connections remain to be confirmed.

In general, low-grade, persistent infections in the oral cavity and elsewhere drain immune strength and weaken health. Teeth and gums are not separate from the rest of the body, and dentistry should not be so separate from general medicine. Taking care of your teeth and gums is vital. Be sure to brush and floss daily and see your dentist regularly so that any problems can be detected and corrected.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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