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Did you know you could have wonderful-looking teeth that are still unhealthy?

By the time we are adults, most of us have experienced tooth decay (dental caries, also called cavities) at some point in our lives. Tooth decay is also the most common disease among people between 6 and 19 years old.

But what does it mean to have "bad teeth," and can a decaying tooth actually make you sick?

In this article, we explain the health issues caused by tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease.

What is Tooth Decay?

Tooth decay, also referred to as a cavity, is literally your tooth being eaten away. Tooth decay occurs when your teeth are unprotected and can wear down your enamel.

When harmful bacteria sticks to and between your teeth, it can cause plaque build-up, which erodes your enamel, exposes the softer dentin layer underneath, and creates holes in the teeth. 

Cavities must be dealt with by your dentist immediately. If tooth decay is not drilled away and filled in a timely manner, all of that bad bacteria can travel through the open channels of your dentin and enter the pulp of the tooth. At this stage, you are left with a much more severe and painful infection.

Health Issues Caused by Tooth Decay

Complications stemming from tooth decay can include the breaking or cracking of your teeth and tooth loss. If an abscess occurs, meaning that a pocket of pus has collected inside the tooth, the infection can spread to the bones that hold your teeth and into the entire body. In rare cases, the infection may move through the sinuses and into the brain, a condition that can be fatal.

What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease begins when plaque builds up in the mouth, much like a cavity. However, rather than sitting on the teeth, the build-up occurs on the gums. This can cause irritation and swelling in the affected area and possibly lead to gingivitis. If gingivitis is left uncared for, it may turn into periodontitis, a severe gum disease that can cause the gums to recede and lead to an abscess inside the gum opening.

Health Issues Caused by Gum Disease

Complications from gum disease can include the following:

Rheumatoid Arthritis

According to Johns Hopkins Rheumatology, “bacterium known to cause chronic inflammatory gum infections triggers the inflammatory autoimmune response also found in the joints of patients with the chronic, joint-destroying autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA).” In fact, people suffering from gum disease can be four times as likely to have RA.

Cardiovascular Disease

The very same bacteria that builds up on gums can also get into the bloodstream, inviting plaque into the arteries to harden and cause a blockage. This serious condition is called atherosclerosis, which greatly increases the chances of a heart attack. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Arteriosclerosis occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body (arteries) become thick and stiff — sometimes restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. Healthy arteries are flexible and elastic, but over time, the walls in your arteries can harden, a condition commonly called “hardening of the arteries.” This arterial damage can lead to hypertension and increase the risk of strokes. 


In addition to risks to your arteries and heart, the effects of gum disease can include risks to your brain. In rare cases, matter released by infected gums can cause brain cells to die, resulting in memory loss. If gingivitis escalates, bacteria that can spread through nerve channels may be able to cause dementia and possibly contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Complications During Pregnancy

You are likely now catching on to the fact that the effects of insufficient oral hygiene can be dangerous to not just your teeth but your entire body as well. This is especially true for pregnant women. Due to hormonal changes during those precious nine months, pregnant women are more susceptible to infections in the gums. Additionally, infections in the mouth or anywhere else can increase the chances of pregnancy complications.

The presence of gingivitis or periodontitis has been linked to low birth weight and even premature birth in newborns. 

Respiratory Infections

Not only can the bacteria found in infected gums travel into the brain and affect the heart, but they can also travel from the mouth and be breathed into the lungs or arrive via the bloodstream. In the same way that plaque and bacterial build-up can cause issues in the mouth, bacteria inside the lungs can also lead to respiratory system infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. In some cases, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a possible result.


Women who have experienced issues with infertility may want to consider dental health as a contributing factor. A woman with poor oral health may have a harder time becoming pregnant than someone who does not have dental health concerns. This is because gum disease can affect the body in many ways, and can make becoming pregnant and/or sustaining a pregnancy more difficult. 

Erectile Dysfunction

While women are at higher risk for irritation in the gums during hormonal shifts, men’s bodies can also be negatively affected by health issues stemming from the gums. Specifically, chronic gum disease can lead to erectile dysfunction in men.

If periodontitis causes the gums to recede and pull away from the teeth, an opportunity for bacteria to herd literally opens, allowing the bacteria to deteriorate the bone supporting the teeth. This bacteria, if able to get into the bloodstream, can cause inflammation of the blood vessels. This inflammation can hinder blood flow to the genitals, making it difficult to achieve or maintain an erection.


Smoking and the use of tobacco are not the only oral practices that may lead to cancer. While the exact connection between diseases is unclear, there is evidence that a person with advanced periodontal disease may be at higher risk of cancer. Overall poor oral health can lead to blood cancers, pancreatic cancer and kidney cancer.

Kidney Disease

Infections existing in the body, like periodontal disease, can lead to kidney disease. Kidney disease affects the heart, bones, kidneys and blood with symptoms like weight loss, poor appetite, swollen extremities, fatigue, blood in urine, insomnia, muscle cramps, headaches and shortness of breath. Those with poor oral hygiene that leads to gum disease often have weaker immune systems, which makes the development of infection a higher possibility. If severe enough, kidney disease can be fatal.


Diabetes, and dental health issues can be a vicious cycle. That’s because diabetics are at high risk for developing infections in the gums while having gum disease, a condition that can exacerbate the symptoms of diabetes. Gum disease can increase blood sugar levels, and diabetics’ bodies cannot process sugar efficiently. Meaning that those who do not keep up healthy oral routines are at increased risk of becoming diabetic.

You can read more about the link between diabetes and gum disease.

How to Prevent Oral Health Issues

When considering the question of whether bad teeth can make you sick, their potential impact on overall health seems to be significant. These risks can be frightening to read through, but thankfully, the best tools for prevention are both simple and effective. The best way to prevent oral health issues from causing other serious health problems is by implementing a good oral health routine, regular cleanings, and visits with a dental professional.

Here are a few keys to keep your oral health in check:

Brush Your Teeth

Make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day, for two minutes each time you brush. Use a safe and effective toothpaste every time you brush and avoid unnecessary ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which can damage your gums. You may also want to brush after consuming foods or beverages that could damage your enamel and create plaque build-up. Items like cakes, cookies, candy, juices and sodas are major offenders.

Floss and Rinse

In addition to brushing, flossing can help prevent issues in the gums that could lead to serious health problems. Flossing is beneficial because floss is able to get into places that your toothbrush cannot go. Also, using mouthwash when brushing can help loosen and wash away unwanted food particles while also rinsing the bacteria off the surfaces of your teeth.

Avoid Using Tobacco

For more reasons than just oral health, it is beneficial to discontinue the use of all tobacco products, but prevention of gum disease and oral cancer are certainly ones to consider.

Use Fluoride

It is vital that the toothpaste you use each day contains fluoride. Fluoride binds to the teeth and protects them from mineral loss, enamel erosion and cavities. Use a fluoride toothpaste every time you brush, and talk to your dentist about possibly getting a fluoride treatment at your next cleaning.

Optimize Your Oral Wellness With Twice

Maintaining proper oral health is not just about having a bright, attractive smile. It’s about safeguarding your overall health and well-being. Neglecting your dental hygiene can lead to a host of serious health issues, but the good news is that taking care of your oral health is a straightforward process with significant benefits.

Twice is a holistic oral health system that combines cutting-edge science and clean ingredients to promote enhanced oral wellness and total mouth-body balance for improved well-being. By incorporating Twice into your daily routine, you can take proactive measures to prevent dental issues that could seriously affect your overall health.

Don’t wait until it's too late; start prioritizing your health today with Twice Oral Wellness

This page was written or reviewed for accuracy by the Twice Team. Learn more about us.