Good oral health doesn’t just involve the status of your pearly whites: Infected gums are open wounds harboring bacteria and potentially causing other health problems.
The bacteria, for example, can get into the bloodstream. And that increases the chances for both heart attack and stroke, especially if you’re not eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and have other risk factors for chronic diseases.
“Your body can’t fight all of this all of the time,” said Jayne Klett, the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio’s Director of Community Development and Outreach. “It just adds another layer of risk.”
Community Health Workers
A nonprofit agency that provides routine dental services for low-income children and adults, the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio recently added community health worker services to help residents with or at risk for chronic diseases. Community health workers trained and coordinated by the Northwest Ohio Pathways HUB connect low-income Lucas County residents to needed medical care – including for oral health – and social services.
The Dental Center of Northwest Ohio’s community health workers do oral health risk assessments, provide education, and make referrals for other medical and social services. Community health workers coordinated by Pathways at other sites, meanwhile, refer clients without dentists to the agency for dental services.
While 66% of Lucas County adults overall saw a dentist in the past year, only 37% of residents making less than $25,000 a year did, according to the 2013/2014 Lucas County Community Health Assessment.
The overall percentage of adults who saw a dentist declined from 68% in 2011, according to the assessment. Additionally, 76% of Lucas County youth in grades 7-12 saw a dentist in the past year, it said.
With gum disease, part of the tissue around teeth is an open wound, but it often is overlooked. Gum disease around every tooth in someone’s mouth would equate to an open wound the size of the palm of an adult’s hand, Jayne said.
“If someone had diabetes, and there was an open wound on her arm, everyone would know it’s a problem,” Jayne said. “But because it’s in your mouth, you don’t see it.”
Mild gum disease, or gingivitis, also can affect pregnant women by prompting early delivery, Jayne said. She said they are seven times more likely to deliver a preterm and low birth weight baby, a leading cause of infant mortality.
For more information, please see this inforgraphic from The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health.