10/5/2011: Dental Health is About More Than Your Teeth!

There are many common dental misconceptions:

“I haven’t visited the dentist in 10 years, but that’s okay because I brush daily.”

“I only need to see the dentist when I have a noticeable problem, like pain or bleeding.”

“It’s okay for me to neglect my dental care because I have too many other health issues to manage.”

The most common misconception is that our oral health does not affect our overall health. In fact, many systemic conditions manifest themselves in the oral cavity!

Good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, can help keep our normal oral bacteria under control. When the balance is out of control, it can lead to tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections. Medications and even dental procedures can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the mouth, making it easier to cause complications. Many systemic diseases affect the oral cavity, including cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, leukemia, gastrointestinal disorders, human immunodeficiency (HIV), and other infectious diseases. The medications used to treat some of these disorders can also affect oral conditions. Some medications cause a decreased salivary flow and this will result in increased decay.

Here are examples of the connection between our dental and overall health:

  • Endocarditus is an infection of the inner lining of the heart caused when bacteria enter the bloodstream. A person with periodontal disease is much more likely to have this occur during dental procedures when manipulation of the gums is involved. Infection can also occur at the site of artificial joints and in some cases may result in the replacement of the total joint.
  • Some research suggests that cardiovascular disease may be linked to oral bacteria involved in chronic inflammation from long-term periodontal disease.
  • Pre-term labor has been associated with gum disease.
  • Those who are immune compromised due to HIV/AIDS infection often experience oral lesions and frequently suffer from thrush, an oral yeast infection of the mouth and tongue.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to delayed healing and reduce the body’s resistance to infection.
  • Some medications used to treat seizure disorders can result in hypertrophy or overgrowth of the normal gum tissue.
  • Routine examination of the oral tissues screens for abnormalities that may lead to early diagnosis of oral cancer.

Continued research is necessary to further understand the relationship between oral disease and systemic health. We can be confident that good oral health supports systemic health as well. It is important to visit the dentist every six months for an exam. Individuals who have been treated for periodontal disease may require care every three to four months. In addition to supporting health, regular exams and early detection of oral disease reduces the financial costs of dental care as well!

In recognition of National Dental Hygiene Month, stop procrastinating and make an appointment for a dental exam today! If you need assistance choosing a dental provider, please contact the IHTC dental hygienist.

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