Shaireen Lalani, DMD
Sometimes what you cant see or feel causes the most troubleespecially where your teeth are concerned. Bacteria in the mouth can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and severe infection. Thats why regular visits to the dentist are so importanteven if your teeth look and feel fine.
Sometimes what you can’t see or feel causes the most trouble–especially where your teeth are concerned. Bacteria in the mouth can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and severe infection. That’s why regular visits to the dentist are so important–even if your teeth look and feel fine.
According to the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, three in four Canadians have mild forms of gum disease. Also called gingivitis, gum disease may present itself as red or swollen bleeding gums and is highly reversible with regular flossing and brushing.
Perils of Gum Disease
If left untreated, chronic gingivitis can lead to a far worse condition known as periodontal disease (periodontitis), often with no pain and few symptoms. Eventually, the bone around teeth degenerates and can lead to tooth loss. This condition causes inflammation and harms more that just your mouth. Your immune system goes into high gear, fighting the overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth.
Studies show that these bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections around previously damaged heart valves. Scientists also believe that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease releases infection-fighting compounds that can inadvertently damage other body tissues. In fact, people with periodontitis are almost twice as likely to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to suffer a stroke as those with healthy gums.
A link has also been found to diabetes and pneumonia. In fact, a study published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Clinical Periodontology found that treating periodontal disease removes inflammation and aids glycemic control, reducing the need for insulin in some people with diabetes.
Gum Disease and Pregnancy
A connection also exists between periodontitis and premature births. Most mothers-to-be take care with their diet, exercise, and medical care. However, most do not realize how crucial their oral health is to the developing fetus. In fact, pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be as much as seven times more likely to give birth to a baby that is premature or of low birth weight. Remember, though, that tender, bleeding gums are common during pregnancy, mostly due to hormonal changes. Regular dental cleanings, flossing, and brushing become most important during this time.
Here’s the Good News
Good old daily brushing and flossing and seeing your dentist and dental hygienist every six months can prevent a lot of health problems or at least limit their effects. Seeing your dentist regularly can do much more than save your teeth and gums. Your dentist can save your life.
Dentists are trained to do an in-depth examination of your oral tissues and they can screen for oral cancers. They will examine your tongue, palate, lips, and the inside of the cheeks for any bumps or sores, which may indicate oral cancer. Alcohol, smoking, and chewing tobacco all increase the risk of oral cancer. For people who smoke and drink alcohol, the risk of oral cancer is even 15 times higher. According to the BC Cancer Agency’s Oral Cancer Prevention Program, half of all patients diagnosed with oral cancer die within five years of diagnosis. Regular dental examinations help tremendously with early detection and treatment.
If more people realized the consequences of ignoring their mouth, teeth, and gums, they would probably see their dentist right away. After all, the head sits on top of the rest of the body–so the health of one will affect the health of the other.
Healthy Food for Healthy Teeth
Proper nutrition is also important for healthy gums and teeth. A well-balanced diet complete with essential nutrients and minerals builds resistance to infection. It is important, however, to limit the amount of snacking, even on whole fruits and unsweetened juices, as these foods are high in sugar and can cause tooth decay. Instead try snacking on high-fibre foods such as raw vegetables, or choose dairy products such as cheese and plain yogourt.