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Research Shows a Link Between Oral Hygiene and Overall Health

March 30, 2024

In 2022, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) consulted with the Center of Health and Research Transformation at the University of Michigan to research the relationship between oral and systemic health. This research found connections between oral health and chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

BCBSM initiated this study because so many people don’t realize the health of their mouth impacts the health of their body. Proper dental care can truly help promote positive well-being and whole health. By checking someone’s mouth, a dentist can be the first to spot a serious health issue.

Hints of Bigger Issues

A big indicator of potential health issues is periodontal disease, which occurs when bacteria in the mouth cause inflammation and bone loss around the teeth.

Bone loss around the teeth can be linked with other systemic diseases such as heart disease, specifically atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease, which is an inflammatory disease of the arteries in the heart. It is associated with atheroma, a fatty material that can form in arteries, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Regular visits to the dentist can establish a baseline of bone levels across your teeth that can be tracked over the years. However, if left untreated, that is where the real problems come in. Bone loss can lead to infection and that infection can get into the bloodstream and impact the heart and brain.


Diabetes is a top contributor to healthcare costs, accounting for roughly 25 percent of every dollar spent. *Recent data finds that 11.3 percent of Americans (37.3 million) have diabetes and 93 percent of those with diabetes have or will have periodontal disease in their lifetime.

**Research has found evidence of a link between periodontal disease and diabetes. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes, for example, increase the risk of periodontal disease, and periodontal disease can hinder maintaining blood sugar levels in an optimal range. The bacterial infection from periodontal disease in the gums can increase inflammation, resulting in oxidative stress throughout the body. Oxidative stress, in turn, is thought to contribute to many of the common complications associated with diabetes such as retinopathy, nephropathy and cardiomyopathy. These complications increase risk for premature death.

Complications from diabetes are vast and costly to a person’s health and wallet. Maintaining that regular cadence of dental appointments can help prevent some of these complications or detect them promptly.

Cancer and Sleep Apnea Screenings

As part of an exam, dentists do an oral cancer screening. The tongue can be the spot where squamous cell carcinoma begins. While dentists don’t diagnose cancer, they can refer patients to a specialist for additional screening such as a biopsy.

Dentists also are screening for sleep apnea. A screening tool used in these situations is STOP-Bang, short for Snoring, Tiredness, Observed apnea, high blood Pressure, Body mass index, Age, Neck circumference, and Gender.

Routine Maintenance

Regular dental care consists of two visits to the dentist a year. These visits allow for proper cleaning, assessment and observation from the dentist.

Much like an annual physical with your primary care doctor, your mouth needs regular care too. It is also important to tell your dentist about the medications you take and about changes in your overall health, especially if you’ve recently been ill or you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes. Overall, dental appointments are a way to prioritize yourself, your health and prevent bigger problems like periodontal disease that could lead to heart disease and potential Alzheimer’s.

*“The Most Expensive Medical Diseases and Procedures | USC EMHA,” USC EMHA Online (blog), February 9, 2023, most-expensive-disease-to-treat-infographic/.
**CDC, “What Is Diabetes?,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 7, 2022,


By Kristi Thomas, DDS, MPH, FICD; originally published in SBAM’s March/April 2024 issue of FOCUS magazine

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