23 May 2023

The health of your mouth might be more important than you realise and is linked to a number of other conditions around the whole body, according to the Oral Health Foundation.

The charity says the health of your mouth, teeth and gums can affect your general health and is calling for more people to understand the links between oral health and overall wellbeing.

Scientists have established strong links between poor oral health and conditions across several sites around the body, including the heart, brain and lungs.

However, latest research by the Oral Health Foundation shows that awareness of oral health affecting conditions in other parts of the body is as low as 11%.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, explains the link between oral health and general health.

Dr Carter says: “Like the rest of the body, the mouth is loaded with bacteria, and while most bacteria are harmless, some can cause disease.  Your body's natural defences and good daily oral hygiene, such as brushing and interdental cleaning, usually keep bacteria under control.  However, without good oral care, bacteria can lead to diseases like tooth decay and gum disease.

“It is the bacteria in the mouth, along with the inflammation associated with a severe form of gum disease (periodontitis), that might play a role in some diseases, including heart disease.”   

As part of National Smile Month, the Oral Health Foundation is encouraging you to help protect yourself from life-changing conditions by taking good care of your oral health.   

Here are five of the most established links between oral health and general health.


People with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery (heart) disease than people without gum disease.

Dr Carter says: “When people have gum disease, it is thought that bacteria from the mouth can get into their bloodstream. The bacteria produce protein. This builds up as plaques in the arteries that can then break off causing obstruction of the arteries around the heart, leading to a heart attack. 

“Blood clots can reduce normal blood flow, so that the heart does not get all the nutrients and oxygen it needs. If the blood flow is badly affected this could also lead to a heart attack.”


Several studies have looked at the connection between mouth infections and strokes.

Researchers have found that people with gum disease are around twice as likely to have a stroke.

Experts discovered when the gums bleed and become inflamed, it leads to changes in how blood and oxygen flows to the brain.

Dr Ben Atkins, a dentist in Manchester, says: “The link between poor oral health and strokes is very similar to that of heart attacks. As bacteria responsible for gum disease find their way into the bloodstream protein levels to rise. This elevation can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels which is usually a good indicator that a person might be at higher risk of having a stroke.”


People with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than people without it. This is probably because diabetics are more likely to get infections in general. People who do not know they have diabetes, or whose diabetes is not under control, are especially at risk.

“If you do have diabetes, it is important that any gum disease is diagnosed, because it can lead to poor glycaemic (blood sugar) control,” adds Dr Carter. “This would put you at risk of diabetic complications.”

Also, if you are diabetic, you may find that you heal more slowly. If you have a problem with your gums, or have problems after visits to your dentist, discuss this with your dental team before you have any treatment.

Dr Carter says: “New research has also shown that you are more likely to develop diabetes if you have gum disease.

“If you have diabetes, you have an increased risk of losing teeth.”


Pregnant women who have gum disease may be over three times more likely to have a baby that is premature and so has a low birth weight. There is a one-in-four chance that a pregnant woman with gum disease will give birth before 35 weeks.

“It is thought that gum disease may raise the levels of the chemicals that bring on labour,” adds Dr Atkins. “Research also suggests that women whose gum disease gets worse during pregnancy have an even higher risk of having a premature baby.

“Having gum disease treated properly during pregnancy can reduce the risk of a premature birth.”


Bacterial chest infections are thought to be caused by breathing in fine droplets from the throat and mouth into the lungs. This can cause infections, such as pneumonia, or could make an existing condition worse.

Dr Carter says: “People with gum disease have more bacteria in their mouths and may therefore be more likely to get chest infections. This particularly affects frail, elderly people who may die from pneumonia caused by breathing in bacteria from their mouth.

“Good oral hygiene for this group of people is therefore particularly important.”

The first sign of gum disease is bleeding gums.  As the gum disease advances you may get an unpleasant taste in your mouth, bad breath, loose teeth.

If you notice any of these, the Oral Health Foundation recommends telling your dentist immediately.

Dr Carter says: “If you have gum disease, your dental team will usually give your teeth a thorough clean to remove any scale or tartar. This may take a number of sessions with the dental team.

“They will also show you how to remove the soft plaque yourself, by cleaning all the surfaces of your teeth thoroughly at home. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria which forms on the teeth every day.”

Dr Atkins adds; “Gum disease is never cured. But as long as you keep up the homecare you have been taught you can slow down its progress and even stop it altogether. You must make sure you remove plaque every day and go for regular check-ups with the dental team, as often as they recommend.”

To keep your teeth and gums in good condition, the Oral Health Foundation advises brushing your teeth for two minutes last thing at night and at one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste.

The charity also suggests cleaning in between the teeth every day with interdental brushes or floss, using mouthwash daily, and reducing how much and how often you have sugar.