To reduce risk of diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, visit your dentist


Delta Dental of Massachusetts


Sponsored and provided by Delta Dental

Eat healthy. exercise. Drink water. do not smoke.

We’re told over and over again that these things are critical to our health and minimizing the risk of chronic disease—and they are. But there's another often-overlooked task that should be added to that list: taking care of your teeth.

The connection between oral health and overall health is becoming increasingly clear, but in many cases, dental care is not considered a top priority. Despite growing understanding of the link between oral health and systemic disease, oral health remains isolated from the rest of the healthcare system.

That doesn't make much sense when you consider how closely connected your mouth is to the rest of your body. The systemic links and consequences of neglecting oral care are obvious and serious. For example, research shows:

  • Diabetes increases the risk of gum disease by 86% (1).
  • Having chronic gum disease (periodontitis) for 10 years is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease (2).
  • Gum disease in pregnant women is associated with premature birth, low birth weight babies, and preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that can cause organ damage and can be fatal (3).
  • Patients with gum disease are less likely to take medications to control their blood pressure than patients with good oral health (4).

However, good oral health habits and preventive dental care can benefit overall health, including mental health and financial well-being. Three years into a pandemic that has caused many people to put off preventive dental and medical care, we are particularly focused on prevention and getting people back in the dental office.

Delta Dental of Massachusetts encourages all of its members to focus on preventive oral health care. It is combining clinical innovation and data to create a system that delivers better outcomes and value for everyone.

It comes at an exciting time. The current pace of clinical innovation may change dental care in ways we have never seen before. New minimally invasive care techniques focus on preventing and even reversing tooth decay without removing any tooth structure. Treatments such as silver diamine fluoride are quickly gaining popularity among dentists and patients because they are convenient, affordable, and effective. We are looking at a potential future where we may rarely need to drill our teeth again.

This presents both an opportunity and an imperative to modernize our oral health system and align it with overall health care. This means rethinking dental insurance coverage to incentivize prevention and quality so we improve care, reduce costs and improve health outcomes.

A bright future for oral health also includes integrating all aspects of dental care with primary and behavioral care, a logical and important transition toward a system that treats the mouth, mind, and body as a whole. Many chronic diseases manifest in the mouth, and your dentist is likely the first to spot early signs of diabetes or heart disease. In the meantime, your primary care provider can identify gum inflammation when examining your tonsils and ensure you are referred to a dentist to treat gum disease.

Any discussion of improving preventive care must also acknowledge that for too many people, significant barriers to accessing dental care remain. According to a recent survey by the CareQuest Oral Health Institute, an estimated 68.5 million adults in the United States do not have dental insurance (5). Underserved communities especially feel the consequences of this disparity and lack of access to dental care, and Massachusetts is no exception. We can and must do more to address the social determinants of health and improve health equity in our communities.

These changes won't be quick and easy. It will take years of focus and collaboration with providers, employers, legislators and community stakeholders to create a more integrated and accessible health care system.

If we do it right, we can make Massachusetts the first state to align oral health with overall health—improving the health of patients and families across the state.

But while we address larger systemic issues, there are some very simple things everyone can do to protect their overall health and reduce the risk of systemic disease: brush their teeth twice a day, floss, and visit the dentist .

To learn more about how to protect your oral health at any age, visit expressyourhealthma.org.


(1) Baranowski MJ et al. Diabetes in dental practice – a literature review. Journal of Education, Health and Physical Education. 2019; 9(2), 264-274

(2) Chen CK et al. (2017). Association between chronic periodontitis and risk of Alzheimer's disease: a retrospective, population-based matched cohort study. Alzheimer's Disease Research and Treatment, 9(1), 56

(3) Daalderop LA et al. Periodontal disease and pregnancy outcomes: an overview of a systematic review. Journal of Dental Research Clinical and Translational Research. 2018;3(1):10-27.

(4) Pietropaoli D et al. Poor oral health and poor blood pressure control among hypertensive adults in the United States: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009 to 2014. 2018 Dec;72(6):1365-1373. Müller F. Oral hygiene reduces mortality from aspiration pneumonia

(5) CareQuest (2023) U.S. Oral Health Equity Survey https://www.carequest.org/resource-library/uninsured-and-need



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