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Oral health directly related to overall health

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It’s not often that one’s new year’s resolution focuses on teeth, but I’m hoping that the following snippet of information might at least shed some light on the importance your teeth and gums — basically, oral health — have on your overall health. 

It helps to have a basic understanding of what’s going on in your mouth before we delve in to the nitty-gritty details of why it’s so important to see your friendly dentist on a regular schedule. We all have loads of bacteria in our mouths, some good and some bad. Unfortunately for some individuals, their mouths are the perfect hosts for more of the bad ones. Two of the biggest problems that present in the mouth are cavities (tooth decay) and gum disease (periodontitis), which are caused by different types of harmful bacteria. 

For now, we will focus on periodontitis. The disease process for periodontitis starts with bleeding gums (gingivitis). In some individuals, if gingivitis is left untreated, it can progress to periodontitis. You know that fuzzy white stuff that sticks to your teeth? That’s plaque and it’s a biofilm made up of thousands of bacteria. If left in place (for more than 48 hours), it starts to harden and forms tartar (calculus). It’s just a tiny version of the Great Coral Reef attached to your teeth. This is what causes gingivitis. The harmful bacteria get to hang out around your gums and cause an infection; which leads to red, puffy, gums that bleed easily when brushed. If the infection is not cleared, the gums are damaged which then allows the infection to spread to the bone that supports the teeth, which is beneath the gums. Once bone destruction starts (periodontitis), it is an irreversible disease that must be managed for a lifetime. This is why it’s so important to brush twice a day, floss at least once a day, schedule professional cleanings twice a year, and have a comprehensive exam completed by a dentist. Risk factors for periodontal disease are heredity, smoking, diabetes, and poor oral hygiene.

Inflammation and Coronary Artery Disease 

Here’s where your overall health comes in to play. The surface area of your gums is about the size of the palm of your hand. It’s not often that one would let a puffy, red, bleeding sore anywhere else on your body go untreated. Yet, so many individuals are unaware that a problem exists, as it is a slow, often painless process. The result of any infection in your body is inflammation. Unfortunately, inflammation is destructive. Destruction of the gums allows bacteria to access to your whole body through the small arteries that are in gum tissue. Researchers have actually found the same bacteria present in gum disease in the atherosclerotic plaques that cause coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. In fact, men under the age of 50 with periodontal disease have a 72 percent increased risk of coronary artery disease, and are then 3.8 times more likely to have a heart attack and 2 times more likely to have a stroke. 

Inflammation and Diabetes 

Another disease directly affected by periodontitis isType II diabetes, characterized by insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes the pancreas to pump out more insulin than would normally be needed. This actually promotes inflammation everywhere in the body. Did you know that gum disease actually increases insulin resistance? There is a direct relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease. If you have poorly controlled diabetes, there is an 11-fold increased risk for gum disease. With that being said, 82 percent of diabetics with severe gum disease experience a cardiac or vascular event (heart disease, heart attack, or stroke) compared to 21 percent of diabetics without gum disease. The bottom line is that the number-one condition that increases a person’s susceptibility to gum disease is diabetes. At the same time, the number-one condition that is adversely affected by gum disease is diabetes. 

If you made it through all that, to make a really long story short: the mouth and all it houses indeed plays a huge role in your overall health. It is a major portal to your body. Therefore, it should be cared for and regarded as an environment that renders the necessity for maintenance and preventative measures. If your resolutions for the year include four-hour daily workouts, no sugar for the rest of your life, and losing 200 pounds in one month (insert a smiley face here), then add these very doable items to your list: brush twice a day, floss once a day, and visit a dental professional at least twice a year. Your body will thank you. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015. 

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