By Stephanie Santoro
As you embrace foods like quinoa and edamame, try yoga and meditation, and get serious about those annual physicals, there’s one connection you might not be making in your quest to live well: dental health. We think so much about the health impacts of what goes into our mouths, but what about our teeth and gums? Research shows that there is a strong connection between oral disease and other health conditions. Preventive care doesn’t exclude the mouth – it is part of the body. A strong dental hygiene regimen at home with regular professional cleanings and check-ups can have a much deeper impact than your smile.
Oral health is not only important for protecting your teeth, but also for protecting your body from infection. A number of health problems are known to be associated with poor oral health, including, periodontal (gum) disease, diabetes, and heart disease. Dental check-ups and cleanings serve as preliminary check points for assessing any changes to your health. You can also identify symptoms during your own daily dental routine to evaluate the health of your mouth and body.
Some 47 percent of American adults suffer from periodontal disease, or gum disease. Symptoms such as bleeding, swollen gums or bad breath are signs of gum disease. Gum disease is an infection caused by the presence of bacteria. Like any infection, it can cause increased inflammation throughout the body. You can help reduce this inflammation and improve your health with good dental care like regular brushing and flossing.
Practicing good oral hygiene can help protect you from an expensive and lifelong-health conditions. A long-term study from United Concordia Dental shows that regular dental treatment and maintenance has a major impact on patients with diabetes, cerebral vascular disease (stroke) and coronary heart disease. Over a five-year period, hospital admissions decreased significantly for patients who received regular preventive dental care.
Admissions were down:
• 39.4 percent for diabetes patients,
• 28.6 percent for patients with heart disease, and
• 21.6 percent for stroke patients
Studies show that gum disease may make health problems in other parts of the body worse, especially for women. Pregnant women may be more susceptible to gum disease because of hormonal changes during pregnancy. Research also suggests that serious gum disease may be linked to premature births and/or low birth weight which is why it’s extremely important for pregnant women to see their dentist regularly.
Be sure to contact your health provider if you are experiencing any indicators associated with gum disease or if you notice lesions that do not get better. Your dentist is the healthcare professional most qualified to find early signs of chronic disease and suggest an appropriate treatment regimen.
Here are some final dental tips to help protect your health by protecting your mouth:
• Get regular dental cleanings (at least two per year)
• Brush twice a day, and floss daily
• Make sure your dentist knows your medical history, including any health conditions and any medications you’re taking
• Maintain a healthy diet (low in sugar, high in fruits and vegetables)
Stephanie Santoro, is a Registered Dental Hygienist with over 15 years of clinical experience. She is the dental program administrator for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation and is a department chairperson for the Foundation’s signature event, the Rhode Island Mission of Mercy.