By Kalil Abide, DDS
When is the last time you had your teeth cleaned? It’s a question a lot of us prefer to avoid, rather than thinking about going to the dentist. Just the thought still gives some of us goose bumps. But our oral health actually plays a crucial role in our overall health. If you have been putting off a visit to your dentist, there are some things you should know about the direct correlation between your oral health and your general health. Inflammation and infections in the mouth can be linked to many serious health problems including diabetes, heart disease, strokes, respiratory conditions and problems during pregnancy, just to mention a few. In fact, our teeth have a lot to do with how we feel every day.
What is Plaque?
We all have heard about plaque since we were children. Remember the red disclosing tablets that helped show us the plaque we left on our teeth, so that we might become more efficient at brushing. If you hadn’t done a good job of brushing when you smiled at your mom, you were sent straight back to brush again.
Plaque is the soft sticky film that forms on our teeth after we eat or drink. The bacteria in plaque can cause gum inflammation, gingivitis, and more. The bacteria in plaque, which cause tooth decay as well as bone and tooth loss, are closely linked to other systemic conditions of the body.
In order to keep the bacteria found in plaque under control, it not only requires good home care and routine dental hygiene visits, it also requires treating tooth decay and infections. One way your dentist detects infection around the tooth is with X-rays. Did you know you should have a full series of X-rays that includes the standard bite X-rays, as well as X-rays that radiograph the entire tooth, every 3-5 years? The less common X-rays, which radiograph (or provide an image of) the whole tooth, allow your dentist to check, not only for tooth decay but also infection around the root of the tooth.
What is Periodontal Disease?
Periodontal disease develops when the space between the tooth and gum, called a sulcus, collects plaque, and the bacteria in the plaque produces a toxin that stimulates an inflammatory reaction causing the gum and bone around the teeth to break down and be destroyed. Your dentist measures the severity of periodontal disease, to determine appropriate treatment based on the amount of bone and gum loss. Periodontal disease can lead to heart disease and diabetes, as well as increase the likelihood that pregnant women will give birth prematurely.
Patients who are being treated for serious medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, chronic respiratory conditions, or who are pregnant, should discuss their health problems with their dentist to be sure they are receiving appropriate preventive dental care.
The key to healthy teeth and gums is controlling mouth bacteria. Next time you are in the dental office for a checkup or cleaning ask your dentist or hygienist how well you are doing controlling the bacteria. There are many products on the market to help. If you are not controlling the bacteria adequately, your dentist might also consider increasing the number of hygiene appointments. Most patients who are medically compromised need to see their dentist more than twice a year. It’s not uncommon to see your dentist 3-4 times a year for hygiene appointments, especially if you have periodontal disease.
Remember, early detection and treatment of problems with your gums, teeth and mouth can help ensure a lifetime of good oral health, while helping to protect your overall health as well.
did you know?
1. According to research, people with periodontal disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as those without periodontal disease. One theory is that the bacteria associated with periodontal disease enters the bloodstream and attaches to the plague in the arteries contributing to clot formation which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
2. Pregnant women who suffer from periodontal disease are seven times more likely of having a baby that is born premature.
3. Bacteria from your mouth, which travels to your lungs, can cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.
4. Uncontrolled diabetes increases the likelihood of infection since the diabetic patient’s immune system is compromised. When mouth bacteria are not controlled, they can result in some of the following conditions: gum inflammation (gingivitis); periodontal or gum disease; dry mouth (xerostomia), which leads to tooth decay; poor healing in the mouth; oral cadidiasis (thrush); and burning mouth and or tongue.
5. Periodontal disease also can alter insulin levels making it harder for a diabetic patient to regulate his blood sugar.
6. Other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which affect our immune systems and decrease our ability to fight bacteria, can produce the same side effects as mentioned with the diabetic patient.
7. Bacteria from periodontal disease can be transferred by saliva – putting spouses at risk of contracting periodontal disease.