Chronic Conditions and Your Oral Health: A Practical Guide
By Dr. Mehmood Asghar

Good oral hygiene is not just necessary for having a beautiful smile and preventing bad breath. It’s also directly linked to your physical health and well-being. Poor oral health can increase the risk of various medical conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. So, what’s the link between oral health and physical well-being? Continue reading to find out.

Relationship Between Oral Health and Systemic Diseases - The Oral-Systemic Link

According to the American Dental Association(1), our physical health is directly linked to our dental health, the so-called oral-systemic link. This is because the mouth is a gateway to the entire body. Anything we eat or drink passes through the mouth. So, if the mouth is diseased, the disease-causing bacteria residing in the oral cavity travel through the bloodstream and food to other body organs and cause serious, even life-threatening medical conditions.

The Importance of Oral Care in the Elderly

Older adults are at a higher risk of diseases caused by poor dental health. They lack manual dexterity and often forget to brush or floss their teeth properly, leading to oral health problems, such as tooth decay, bad breath, sensitivity, gum disease, and tooth loss.

What’s more alarming is that senior citizens also have a higher risk of developing oral health-related systemic diseases.

This is why seniors need dental care, not only for cosmetic purposes but, more importantly, for preventing and detecting diseases. Popular dental treatments for older adults include dental cleaning, teeth whitening, dental implants, dentures, crowns, root canal therapy, fillings, extractions, gum surgery, and oral cancer treatment.

Long-term Effects of Poor Oral Hygiene on Physical Health and Well-being

What’s more important to understand is that there is a two-way link between oral health and systemic diseases. Some of them are:

1. Diabetes

Individuals with poor oral hygiene are at a higher risk of developing diabetes. Research(2,3) has shown that individuals with high blood sugar levels have a 2.5 - 4 times higher risk of gum disease, periodontitis, and tooth loss than those without diabetes.

At the same time, existing gum disease affects glycemic control in susceptible individuals. Although the exact reason for this is not completely known, researchers believe it occurs because the disease-causing bacteria in infected gums release toxins and increase systemic inflammation systemically, resulting in higher blood sugar levels(4).

2. Cardiac Problems

There is ample scientific evidence showing that patients with gum or periodontal disease have a higher risk of developing cardiac issues, as gum disease increases the number of disease-causing bacteria in the blood.

As a result, there is an increased inflammatory response within the body that causes the formation of plaque within the blood vessels that may lead to heart attack and other cardiovascular issues such as stroke.

3. Kidney Disease

Your oral health can also affect your lungs. According to the American Thoracic Society(5), inflammatory cells within infected gums send out a “distress” that puts the entire body on alert. As a result, there are chances of increased inflammation in the lungs, which can exacerbate various chronic lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Besides, some bacteria can also be inhaled into the lungs and may cause serious, even life-threatening pulmonary diseases.

4. Pregnancy-related Complications

There is a direct, two-way relationship between gum disease and pregnancy-related complications. Gum inflammation and periodontal disease are common in pregnant women. The increased estrogen and progesterone levels in pregnant ladies can lead to increased inflammation.

At the same time, there is an increase in the number of bacteria that can cause systemic illnesses, including pregnancy-related issues. For example, low-weight and preterm births are a common complication of gum disease during pregnancy. According to a research study, the risk of these complications is 7.5 times higher in pregnant women with periodontitis than those who don’t have(6).

Which Chronic Diseases Can Be Prevented by Going to the Dentist?

You can prevent a lot of dental issues by visiting your dentist regularly. However, many people don’t know that regular dental checkups help us avoid many systemic illnesses mentioned in this blog. Many systemic conditions are diagnosed very early - and are treated completely - during routine dental visits.


This guide highlights the vital connection between oral health and overall well-being. It emphasizes that maintaining good oral hygiene extends beyond cosmetic concerns, which is important in preventing systemic diseases. Older adults face an increased risk of oral health issues, which can lead to chronic conditions.

This article explores the two-way link between oral health and specific diseases such as diabetes, cardiac problems, kidney disease, and pregnancy-related complications. Regular dental checkups are highlighted for preventing dental issues, early diagnosis and complete treatment of systemic conditions.


About the Author

Dr. Mehmood Asghar is a dentist by profession and an Assistant Professor of Dental Biomaterials at the National University of Medical Sciences, Pakistan. Dr. Asghar received his undergraduate and postgraduate dental qualifications from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST). He is also currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Restorative Dentistry from Malaysia. Apart from his hectic clinical and research activities, Dr. Asghar likes to write evidence-based, informative articles for dental professionals and patients. Dr. Asghar has published several articles in international, peer-reviewed journals.



  2. Ship, J. A. (2003). Diabetes and oral health: an overview. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 134, 4S-10S.
  4. Lamster, I. B., Lalla, E., Borgnakke, W. S., & Taylor, G. W. (2008). The relationship between oral health and diabetes mellitus. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 139, 19S-24S.
  6. Scannapieco FA. Systemic effects of periodontal diseases. Dental Clinics of North America. 2005;49(3): 533-550


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