Healthy living Insurance

The role of dental care in overall health

Your oral health both impacts and is impacted by overall health. Good oral hygiene is an essential part of maintaining your wellness. Regular dental checkups can help ensure that any issues are caught or treated early. And since the risk for gum disease increases with age, having dental insurance can provide the peace of mind that you’ll be covered if you need specialized treatment.

Here’s a breakdown of some connections between dental health and overall health.

How your oral health interacts with overall health

Bacteria from your mouth can enter the body and lead to medical concerns

Your mouth is full of bacteria. Not all bacteria are harmful, but some are. When bacteria from your mouth enters the bloodstream, it can lead to other conditions, including:

  • Endocarditis, which is an infection in the heart
  • Pneumonia, when bacteria from the mouth get to the lungs
  • Cardiovascular diseases, although the connection isn’t fully understood yet
  • Alzheimer’s disease, research has found high levels of a specific bacteria from the mouth within the brains of Alzheimer’s patients

Bacteria in the mouth can cause gum disease

Gum disease is common – seven in 10 Canadians will develop it at some point in their life. It’s caused by the build-up of bacteria around the gum line, which becomes plaque and eventually tartar. It’s one of those diseases that can sneak up on you – often, you won’t realize you have it until it’s starting to cause an issue. While it’s mostly preventable, the risk of gum disease does increase with age.

You may notice bad breath or a bad taste, or your gums may be red, painful or bleeding. The early stage of gum disease is called gingivitis. Gingivitis is reversible, but it can lead to periodontitis if left untreated. With periodontitis, gums weaken, bone loss can happen, and you may lose teeth. It can also impact your immune system.

If you develop gum disease, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist, which is a dentist with specialized training in treating gum disease. Periodontics is covered under RTOERO’s dental plan.  

Medications can impact saliva flow

Saliva is important for oral health. It helps to neutralize acids and support digestion. It can also help prevent tooth decay and gum disease by coating the teeth, eliminating harmful bacteria with its antimicrobial agents, and washing away bits of food that can feed bacteria. Various medications, including decongestants and painkillers, can reduce saliva. It’s a good idea to look into your medications to see if they impact saliva. If so, pay special attention to your brushing and flossing routine. And be sure to let your hygienist know what medications you’re taking (they always ask!).

Some health conditions can impact oral health

Your dental care team will always ask whether there have been any changes in your health. Communicate with your dental and healthcare teams so everyone can plan for your best care.  Certain conditions can impact oral health, including:


Gum disease occurs more frequently among people with diabetes. High blood sugar affects your body’s ability to fight infections in your mouth. This means that if you get gum disease, it can be more severe and take longer to heal. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to manage your diabetes, and also why it’s important to prioritize your oral health and have coverage in case concerns arise.

Alzheimer’s disease

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people are at increased risk of oral health issues. Caregivers will want to put a greater emphasis on oral hygiene, helping the person with Alzheimer’s care for their teeth and gums.


If you’re receiving chemotherapy, you may not be able to have dental treatment done until your blood counts have recovered. Chemotherapy and radiation can also impact saliva production.

Oral health issues can impact mental health and quality of life

Evidence shows that people with periodontal disease may avoid social contact. You may not be able to enjoy food in the same way. Bad breath or missing teeth can cause feelings of embarrassment or shame. Pulling back from social interaction can lead to social isolation, which has significant health implications.

Good nutrition supports oral health

Perhaps unsurprisingly, what you eat and drink impacts your oral health. Avoiding too many sugars is a good idea. Foods high in acid should be eaten as part of a larger meal as much as possible, including citrus and tomatoes.

Like many areas of health, when it comes to oral health, small actions really do add up. Make caring for your mouth and teeth a priority. Ensure you’re booking all your dental cleanings and exams. The Government of Canada offers tips on caring for your mouth and teeth specific to seniors.

The relationship between oral health and overall health is a factor when considering whether dental insurance is worth it in retirement. Remember, while insurance can help cover regular health and dental costs, it’s also there to protect you if the unexpected happens.