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The eyes may be the window to the soul, but your mouth has a few things to say about you, too. Problems in your mouth may be an indication of medical problems throughout the body. In fact, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and kidney disease may be detected in their early stages through an oral examination.
At the same time, your oral health can have an effect on your overall health. Research has shown that advanced gum disease, known as periodontitis, can be associated with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia, as well as increased risk for delivering preterm and/or low-birth-weight babies, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
The ADA, however, also emphasizes the importance of understanding that the appearance of two conditions at the same time doesn't necessarily mean that one condition causes the other. Researchers are still working to find out the exact cause-and-effect relationship between periodontitis and other medical conditions. For example, people with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontitis. But some studies suggest that treating periodontitis can improve blood sugar control.
In other cases, the relationship between poor oral care and poor physical health is clearer. Reports show that infections of the mouth can also cause health problems, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Oral bacteria can travel through the bloodstream to the heart, where they can cause bacterial endocarditis, an inflammation of the lining of the heart and heart valves. In addition, poor oral health affects the digestive process, which begins with physical and chemical activities in the mouth.
One thing is certain: Good dental care is an important part of your overall good health. Daily brushing and flossing are vital, as are regular visits to the dentist. Be sure your dentist is aware of your health history and current status, including any medications you're taking.