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. Don't smoke.

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

The links between oral health and overall health are becoming increasingly clear, but in many cases, dental care is not considered a top priority. Despite the growing understanding of the connections between oral health and systemic disease, oral health continues to be siloed from the rest of the healthcare system.

This doesn't make much sense when you consider how closely connected the mouth is to the rest of your body. The systemic connections — and the consequences of ignoring oral care — are as evident as they are serious. For example, studies have shown:

  • Diabetes raises the risk of developing gum disease by 86% (1).
  • Having 10 years of chronic gum disease (periodontitis) was associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease (2).
  • Gum disease among pregnant women is associated with preterm births, low birthweight babies and preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that can cause organ damage and can be fatal (3).
  • Patients with gum disease are less likely to be able to manage their blood pressure with medication than those with good oral health (4).

Good oral health practices and preventive dental care, though, can benefit overall health, including mental health and economic well-being. Following three years of a pandemic in which many people delayed preventive dental and medical care, we're particularly focused on prevention and getting people back in dentists' offices.

Delta Dental of Massachusetts is encouraging all of its members to focus on preventive oral health care. And 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 pace of clinical innovations coming out right now could transform dental care in ways we've never seen before. New minimally invasive care techniques are focused on preventing and even reversing tooth decay, without removing any tooth structures. Treatments like Silver Diamine Fluoride have quickly become popular among both dentists and patients for being accessible, affordable, and effective. We're looking at a potential future in which we may rarely have to drill a tooth again.

This presents an opportunity and imperative to modernize our oral health system and bring it in line with overall health care. That means rethinking dental coverage to incentivize prevention and quality so that we improve care, reduce costs, and improve health outcomes.

A better future for oral health also includes integrating aspects of dental care with primary and behavioral health 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 it's very possible that your dentist could be the first person to detect early signs of diabetes or heart disease. At the same time, your primary care provider could recognize inflammation in the gums while checking your tonsils, and make sure you're referred to a dentist to manage gum disease.

Any conversation about improving preventive care must also acknowledge that there remain significant barriers to accessing dental care for too many people. According to a recent survey from CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, an estimated 68.5 million adults in the U.S. do not have dental insurance (5). That gap, and the consequences of a lack of access to dental care, are disproportionately felt by underserved communities 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 will not be quick and easy. It will take years of focus and partnering with providers, employers, legislators, and community stakeholders to create a more integrated and accessible healthcare system.

If we do this right, we can make Massachusetts the first state to bring oral health in line with overall health — improving the health of patients and families for all across our state.

But while we tackle the 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 twice daily, floss, and visit your dentist.

To learn more about how you can protect your oral health at any age, visit

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

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

(3)  Daalderop LA, et al. Periodontal Disease and Pregnancy Outcomes: Overview of Systematic Reviews. Journal of Dental Research Clinical and Translational Research. 2018; 3(1): 10–27.

(4)  Pietropaoli D, et al. Poor Oral Health and Blood Pressure Control among US Hypertensive Adults: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009 to 2014. Hypertension. 2018 Dec; 72(6): 1365-1373. Müller F. Oral Hygiene Reduces the Mortality from Aspiration Pneumon

(5) CareQuest (2023)State of Oral Health Equity in America Survey


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