Your teeth are more than just something to chew and smile with. Research is increasingly showing that they can have an effect on your overall health.

Many Americans think their poor oral health is holding them back. In a 2015 survey by the American Dental Association, 20% of low-income adults said their mouths and teeth were in bad condition, and 20% of all adults said their unhealthy mouths caused them anxiety, according to Marko Vujicic, chief economist for the association’s Health Policy Institute, who helped conduct the survey.
One thing you may not have to worry about is daily flossing. Recently, the Associated Press investigated the dental association’s statement that “interdental cleaners such as floss are an essential part of taking care of your teeth and gums” and found weak scientific evidence to support this claim.
That said, the most common oral ailments are cavities and gum disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 91% of adults (PDF) have tooth decay, and nearly half of adults have periodontal disease, an advanced form of gum disease caused by overgrowth of bacteria-filled plaque on teeth. Periodontal disease leads to inflammation in the mouth and can destroy the bones that support teeth.
Anyone who has had a cavity or periodontal disease is probably familiar with the pain and possibly embarrassment from the resulting bad breath, discolored teeth and tooth loss. But what many do not know is that these problems may not be confined to their mouths.
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“A prevailing opinion among the public for many years is that a tooth is just a tooth,” said Sally J. Cram, a periodontist in Washington. “Now we are understanding that when you have inflammation and disease in your mouth, the mouth is connected to your whole body, and inflammation can spread to the rest of the body.”
A “ton of studies” show that people who have periodontal disease are at higher risk of developing diabetes and having heart disease, said Cram, a spokeswoman and consumer adviser for the American Dental Association. However, the research comes short of demonstrating that poor oral health actually causes these diseases.
Many of the risk factors for periodontal disease, such as age, weight and smoking and alcohol use, also increase the risk of heart disease, so it is difficult to know whether periodontal disease itself is responsible for heart disease, according to an American Heart Association statement(PDF). And while there is good evidence that uncontrolled diabetes can drive up the risk of periodontal disease — probably because elevated blood sugar helps feed the bacteria that cause periodontal disease — it is less clear whether the relationship goes in the other direction.
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