Cliff Maesaka, President and CEO of Delta Dental of Kentucky

While many adults are focused on staying healthy through exercise and eating right, one area that is closely connected to a person’s overall health and often overlooked is oral health. Inside the mouth aren’t just teeth, but clues to keeping disease away.

The connection between oral health and overall health wasn’t always widely discussed, according to Cliff Maesaka, the president and CEO of Delta Dental of Kentucky.

“Everybody knows the mouth is connected to the body, but in 2000, the surgeon general provided his first-ever report on the state of oral health in America, and it was the first time in about a hundred years anyone had said out loud that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body and things that go on in the mouth affect the rest of the body,” he said.

Since that time, the link between oral health and overall health has been studied extensively, and it has been shown that gum disease and periodontal disease are related to a number of other issues, including heart disease, strokes, obesity, poor diabetic control, adverse pregnancy outcomes and more.

That makes it even more important for children and young adults to get started on an oral health program with a dentist at an early age.

“Getting a young child in to the dentist early can have impact on all phases of that child’s life,” Maesaka said. “You can’t learn if you’re in pain. Addressing those early needs and getting interventions early in the child’s life can affect how that child performs in school, their self-image, in terms of their smile and their looks, and their academic performance throughout the rest of their lives.”

Health advocates today encourage individuals to have a medical home for care of their overall health, and having a dentist as part of that overall health plan is becoming more common.

“The mouth is definitely a bellwether for the rest of the body’s overall health,” Maesaka said. “You can tell a lot by looking in the mouth, and a dental examination can tell you more than just if there are cavities or gum disease. There can be clues and information regarding other diseases as well.”

For people of all ages, going to a dentist for the first time after a period of neglect can be intimidating. Dentists frequently market their services with messages that combat the innate fear that many have about making an appointment.

“If you haven’t been to the dentist in a long time, going for the first time and overcoming the fear of pain, fear of expense, fear of disfigurement – those are all things you have to get past and sit down in the chair that first time,” Maesaka said. “Once you’ve done that, and you find out the status of your oral health, then you have the opportunity to make a plan and go forward as a way to get healthier. That’s the purpose of the visits – to get healthy and stay healthy.”

And Maesaka believes that the relationship patients have with their dentists can be one of the most important and effective ways to stay healthy.

“Dental health is important because the mouth is connected to the body and the things that go on in the mouth affect the rest of the body. Going to the dentist and getting an examination is critical to everybody’s health,” he said.