Ever wonder why, when you go for a physical or some other routine doctor’s appointment, your doctor will ask when you last saw your dentist? This is not a question borne of jealousy. Your physician needs to know if you’re seeing other people – like your dentist – and how often, in order to focus on a clearer picture of your health overall.
What do your teeth have to do with the rest of your body? Well, when it comes to your heart, quite a lot in fact. What? Teeth and ticker seems an unlikely match? Hardly. The relationship between the two is rock solid and needs to be carefully nurtured by you if you’re interested in longevity. Meaning, your own.
Consider the following Diamond Dental’s Valentine to you…
A Health History Lesson
The connection between good oral hygiene and cardiac health is an old one, as old as the 1920s, in fact. At that time, dentists and doctors were already well entrenched in understanding the relationship between oral and overall health.
In an article, Dental Health and Heart Health, posted on the website of the American Heart Association (AHA), Ann Bolger, M.D, William Watt Kerr Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explains, “This is not the first time that oral health has been linked to overall health. In the 1920s a crescendo of concern about the connection led to the prevalence of complete tooth extractions. Unfortunately, we didn’t cure heart disease by removing teeth.”
So, what does that mean? If there were a relationship between healthy teeth and a healthy heart, why wouldn’t pulling teeth fix the issue? Unfortunately, periodontal disease and cardiac disease are related, but medical experts cannot say that bad oral health will cause cardiac damage, just as they can’t promise good oral hygiene will protect your heart.
That said, however, the connection should not be dismissed. Bolger went on to say, “The mouth can be a good warning signpost. People with periodontitis often have risk factors that not only put their mouth at risk, but their heart and blood vessels, too. But whether one causes the other has not actually been shown.”
Fair enough, but let’s take a look at how opting in favor of oral hygiene shows some love to your heart.
Understanding the Root Cause of Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease does not happen overnight. Skipping the brush and floss routine one evening is certainly frowned upon by your dentist, not to mention your significant other who as to snooze beside you; however, doing so absolutely will not result in you waking with diseased teeth and gums the next morning. The worst you can count on is bad breath and that fuzzy sweater feeling along the surface of your teeth. Gross, but not quite gingivitis…just a sure step in that direction.
Is gingivitis periodontal disease?
Although it is not considered periodontal disease, it is a precursor to it. Gingivitis is an infection, a gum disease resulting from the build up of bacteria along your teeth and gums. How can you tell if you are sporting a smile riddled with gingivitis?
Here’s a quick and dirty list to get you started. Just like that unwanted love note you got in fourth grade, this is another “check yes or no” scenario. Depending on which checks outweigh the other, you might be faced with a scenario worse than an uninvited crush.
But, where does your heart enter this love triangle? Simply put, it enters via bacteria. More specifically, the bacteria in your mouth, causing either gingivitis or periodontal disease, are able to enter your bloodstream, traveling to your heart via your arteries, potentially clogging them along the way, and possibly resulting in cardiac disease or stroke.
Okay, so how can you tell the difference between gingivitis and periodontal disease?
Do You Have Gingivitis? Check Yes or No.
<3 A glance at your gums reveals swollen, red tissue.
<3 Your gums are sensitive to the touch, making brushing, flossing, and even eating uncomfortable.
<3 On the order of brushing and flossing, doing either, no matter how gently, causes your gums to bleed.
<3 It looks as though your gums are trying to “pull away” from your teeth.
<3 Your breath stinks.
<3 Your teeth feel wiggly, but your baby teeth are long gone.
Depending on the number of checked hearts, it might be time to reach for the phone and book in with the team at Diamond Dental. Why? What’s the course of action?
Treatment of Gingivitis vs. Periodontal Disease
If you have a case of gingivitis, you can rest easy that a simple teeth cleaning will remedy the situation. Your dental hygienist will remove the plaque, essentially hardened bacteria, which has accumulated around your teeth and gums. Provided you then recommit yourself to better oral care, you should be all set.
Periodontal disease is a different story, whose resolution is far more involved than a simple cleaning. In order to treat this advanced gum disease, you might have to go so far as electing surgery. Depending on its progression, your dentist might be able to treat you through a simple procedure, called scaling and root planning (SRP). In this case, your dental hygienist will scrape the bacteria off your teeth and smooth any surfaces that feel rough. Bacteria have a hard time attaching to smooth surfaces, which is why this step is particularly important.
If your periodontal disease has progressed beyond the scope of scaling and root planing, your dentist will have to consider surgical procedures like pocket reduction, also known as flap surgery. This involves folding the gum back to eradicate the bacteria and infected tissue, followed by smoothing the bone’s surface, again to prevent bacteria from taking hold.
From there, if the disease has advanced further, your dentist will have to explore gum and /or bone grafts to repair the damaged areas.
The Human Nature of Health
Relax! We’re not embarking on a birds and bees exploration of human nature. But, what we’re talking about is just as undeniable as the laws of attraction. When it comes to health risks, most of us take a rather cavalier approach, confident that whatever the issue, it simply couldn’t happen to us.
But then the numbers weigh in, smashing any delusions that we are invincible. Consider this: almost 50% of people over the age of 30 suffer from periodontal disease, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). And, as with most health issues, the statistics get worse with age, with incidences of periodontal disease jumping to 70% for people over 75. Just take a look at this chart…
Still think it couldn’t happen to you? Then it might be time to get your head checked, too.
The Beat Goes On
Isn’t that what we all hope? To keep on keeping on for as long as we possibly can. Although Dr. Bolger said there is not enough research to prove a cause-effect correlation between good oral hygiene habits and heart disease, we’re convinced it’s not worth the gamble. After all, in this day and age, oral care has never been easier or more affordable. And, as is the case with most preventable ailments, the ease and affordability directly correlates with keeping current when it comes to scheduled cleanings and daily dental habits.
Ready for a fresh start? Call the team at Diamond Dental and invest in a healthier relationship with your teeth…and maybe even your ticker.