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Earlier this year, a CDC report noted that 94% of COVID deaths involved people with pre-existing conditions. Other research showed that, in particular,

cardiovascular disease may double a patient’s risk of dying from COVID-19. They also discovered that other pre-existing conditions may increase a COVID-19 patient’s risk of death by one-and-a-half to three times.

Unfortunately, chronic health problems like heart disease – or arthritis or cancer or diabetes or any number of ongoing conditions – are increasingly common around the world. Here at home, 6 out of every 10 Americans have at least one; 4 in 10 have two or more. Most are generally preventable, driven largely by diet and other lifestyle factors.

The debilitating nature of many of these conditions exacts a real cost – not just financially but with respect to quality and length of life.

One way of measuring this burden is with something called disability-adjusted life years, or DALYs. As the World Health Organization defines it, this measure

combines years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLLs) and years of life lost due to time lived in states of less than full health, or years of healthy life lost due to disability (YLDs). One DALY represents the loss of the equivalent of one year of full health.

MDLinx recently posted a summary of the 7 most debilitating diseases in the US, based on their DALYs rate. In order of least to most debilitating, these are

  • Neurological diseases.
  • Endocrine disorders.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Injury.
  • Circulatory diseases.
  • Cancers and tumors.
  • Mental health disorders and substance misuse.

While most of these conditions are multifactorial, it’s noteworthy that dental conditions can be one of those contributing factors.

drawing of open mouthThe mercury that makes up the bulk of a “silver” amalgam filling, for instance, is most known for its neurologic effects and mental symptoms. In fact, the phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from centuries ago, when mercury nitrate was to make felt for hats. “Mad hatter disease” described the neurological and mental symptoms that arose from the toxic exposure.

Mercury is known to impact the cardiovascular (circulatory) system, as well, and to act as an endocrine disruptor.

Another dental factor can play a role in more than half the listed conditions, as well: gum disease. As we saw last week, cancer is just one of them. Poor periodontal health has also been consistently linked with other inflammatory conditions, including arthritis (musculoskeletal), cardiovascular issues, and cognitive decline (neurological).

Injury might seem to stand alone, without a dental relationship, but parafunctional habits such as bruxing (habitual grinding or clenching) can actually contribute over time to chronic TMJ pain or other problems. While not life-threatening, TMJ disorders can still limit activities and significantly detract from one’s quality of life.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting that dental factors are the sole or even primary cause of any of the debilitating conditions that made the MDLinx list – nor will they contribute to the same sorts of problems for every single person. What we are saying is that when seeking healing, it’s important to not overlook the role the mouth may be playing in whole body health.

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