SAN FRANCISCO- Think dental health begins and ends in your mouth? Think again. The condition of your teeth and gums plays a major role in the development or worsening of many systemic health conditions.
“Oral health is a window to our general health,” says San Francisco dentist Dr. Greg Larson. “The mouth is a gateway to the bloodstream and an ideal environment for bacteria growth, so it’s wise for patients to place the same importance on the condition of their teeth and gums as they would on the rest of their body.”
Dental and general health share a closer bond than many realize. Oral bacteria contributes to a variety of maladies that manifest in other areas of the body. Most of this bacteria is harmless in normal quantities, but neglecting oral hygiene can cause the bacteria to multiply and trigger periodontal (gum) disease and decay, both of which are serious bacterial infections that call for prompt professional care.
With many illnesses, the mouth/body connection runs both ways, meaning changes in teeth and gums often signify a progressing general health issue.
How does poor dental health put you at risk?
Gums inflamed by periodontal disease play a big part in many systemic illnesses. WebMD reports people with severe gum disease are 40 percent more likely to suffer another chronic illness.
Periodontal disease is brought on when irritants from food debris and plaque aren’t removed in a timely manner, causing the gums to grow infected. Gingivitis, which is reversible, is the first stage of periodontal disease. In response to infection, the immune system attempts to control the infected area, which makes the gums inflamed. Chemicals released from the inflammation attack the gums and bones that anchor teeth. This results in periodontitis, the most severe form of periodontal disease.
We at Greg D. Larson, DDS want you to be informed about the threats to your smile and body. Being aware of these threats can help you identify and resolve a growing problem early. Here are the most common systemic ailments connected to poor dental health:
Cardiovascular disease. Poor oral health, specifically periodontal disease, is closely linked to cardiovascular issues like heart attack and stroke. Both share risk factors, such as smoking and obesity. According to one WebMD article, about 91 percent of patients with heart disease also suffer periodontitis.
While details of the gum/heart connection require more research, most doctors believe inflammation in the gums triggers inflammation in the bloodstream. Blood vessels that are inflamed inhibit blood flow to the heart and other areas of the body, which spikes blood pressure. Increased pressure could also cause plaque in the arteries to travel to the brain and cause heart attack or stroke.
Diabetes. The connection between diabetes and periodontal disease is so strong, The American Academy of Periodontology acknowledges the disease as a side effect of diabetes.
More than 20 million Americans suffer from diabetes, a condition that prevents its victims from processing sugar correctly due to a lack of insulin. Inflammation from periodontal disease appears to impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar even further. Conversely, diabetes shrinks the body’s resistance to infections, such as periodontal disease. A perfect environment for infection is created when blood sugar is high.
While it takes more than healthy gums to reverse a case of diabetes, The American Dental Association says managing periodontal disease and reducing inflammation can have a positive effect on diabetes. So, implementing a thorough oral hygiene routine may indeed improve a diabetic’s condition.
Endocarditis. Endocarditis strikes when the inner lining of the heart becomes infected by bacteria and germs from other parts of the body, like the mouth. It is a life-threatening condition. Oral bacteria reaches the heart through swollen, bleeding gums affected by periodontal disease. When gums are inflamed, germs and bacteria originating in the mouth have access to the bloodstream.
Pregnancy complications. If you’re pregnant and have poor oral health, your baby may suffer the consequences. Inflammation and infection seem to affect babies in utero. That’s why low birth weight and premature birth are linked to periodontitis in the mother. Both situations can elicit serious problems for the baby, including heart and lung conditions and learning disorders.
Other factors contribute to low birth weight and premature birth, but ensuring gums stay thriving will help ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby. With that said, achieving good gum health as an expectant mother is easier said than done. Thanks to surging levels of the progesterone, “pregnancy gingivitis” impacts 50 to 70 percent of women during pregnancy.
Thankfully, diligent brushing and flossing can combat pregnancy gingivitis. Periodontitis, not gingivitis (mild and reversible gum disease), interferes with pregnancy. Our advice to expectant mothers is to make sure gingivitis does not advance to periodontitis.
Protect your smile and body.
As you’ve learned, dental health isn’t isolated from the rest of the body. In addition to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Endocarditis and pregnancy complications, researchers suspect oral health is linked to osteoporosis, lung conditions, rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. Are you feeling extra motivation to brush and floss yet?
“You simply can’t be your best with poor dental health,” says Dr. Larson. “Keeping teeth and gums clean is an easy way to reduce your risk factors for so many dental and systemic health conditions.”
The best defense against periodontal disease and tooth decay is resting on your bathroom counter. Proper use of a toothbrush combined with regular flossing, professional preventive care and smart food choices provide the foundation for a lifetime of good dental health. Here are our guidelines:
- With an electric or soft-bristled toothbrush, brush twice daily for at least two minutes. Use a gentle brushing motion to reach the gum line and tongue.
- Floss daily with the appropriate floss for your tooth spacing.
- Use a non-alcoholic, antimicrobial mouthwash according to its dosage recommendation.
- Limit consumption of sugary foods and try to avoid snacking between meals.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Visit a dentist for preventive care two to four times each year.
Just as dental health affects overall wellbeing, general health issues should alter your approach to dental hygiene. Your oral care routine should be personalized, not based on a cookie cutter format. Speak to us about different products and a personalized maintenance system that addresses your oral and systemic environment. Many different tools are available, such as compact toothbrush heads, anti-sensitivity toothpaste, prescription strength fluoride pastes and rinses, tongue scrapers and floss aides, to name a few.
You may need to adjust your oral hygiene routine according to your unique health needs and medications you are taking. For example, painkillers, decongestants, antihistamines and diuretics reduce saliva flow in the mouth, which increases your risk for decay and periodontal disease. If you’re taking one of these medications or have an illness which causes dry mouth, we urge you to stay hydrated and add an extra brushing routine into your day.
How we can help.
Proper at-home care is essential to maintaining a healthy mouth and living well, but routine preventive dentistry is the only way to ensure your teeth and gums are truly healthy. Only a dentist possesses the expertise and tools to spot developing health concerns and remove hidden plaque and tartar. Professional cleanings at scheduled intervals that support your healthy pH levels are key to combating bacteria’s incubation cycle and ceasing them from spreading to other areas of your body.
Professional care is also necessary to treat severe cases of periodontal disease, such as periodontitis. At Greg D. Larson, DDS, we combine periodontics with advanced treatments to restore gum health in a comfortable and efficient manner. No painful cutting or sewing required!
We understand the impact the body has on the condition of your smile, and on the contrary. That’s why we take a holistic approach to preventive care. At your initial visit with us, we ask that you inform us of you and your family’s medical history. Dr. Larson and our staff tailors treatment to each patient’s health needs. By providing care that meets your needs, you can achieve a strong smile and body.
Greg D. Larson, DDS is a trusted provider of comprehensive dental solutions like porcelain veneers, Invisalign, teeth whitening, periodontics and dental implants in the San Francisco area. Contact our friendly staff to learn more.
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