Posts for: October, 2020
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, when we call attention to the importance of keeping those pearly whites clean. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, protect your teeth and gums from dental disease. It might also lessen the risk or severity of heart disease, arthritis—or even dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Sound far-fetched? A number of years ago, researchers noticed that people with periodontal (gum) disease were also more prone to systemic conditions like chronic heart and lung diseases, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. The common thread: inflammation, the body's response to infection or trauma.
Inflammation in and of itself is a necessary part of the healing process. But if it becomes chronic, as it often does with a gum infection and these other systemic diseases, this defensive response meant to aid healing can instead damage tissues.
We've also learned that inflammation arising from gum disease may worsen inflammation associated with other systemic conditions. It can work the other way as well: If you have an inflammatory disease, your risk for gum disease goes up and any gum infection can be more acute.
What we've learned recently, though, might be even more concerning: Results from a recent study are showing some evidence of a link between gum disease and dementia and decline in cognitive ability. The study, published in the journal Neurology this past July, followed approximately 8,000 Americans for twenty years. Participants came from a variety of locations and demographic subsets, and were on average in their early sixties with no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study.
Of the participants who completed the study, about 19% had developed dementia. Of these participants, those with severe gum disease and tooth loss were slightly more likely to have dementia than subjects with healthy teeth and gums.
At the very least, these studies raise more questions about the connections between oral and general health, calling for further exploration. One thing's for sure, though—healthy teeth and gums play an important role in the overall quality of life and health. The time and effort required for the following are well worth it to maintain a healthy mouth.
- Brush and floss your teeth every day without fail;
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings;
- Eat a “tooth-friendly” diet low in sugar and rich in vitamins and minerals (especially calcium);
- See your dentist as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
We all want to stay fit and active throughout our senior years. Taking care of your teeth and gums—especially with daily oral hygiene—is a key part of the formula for a long and happy life.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental hygiene to overall health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
There are important reasons not to smoke, like minimizing your risk for deadly diseases like heart disease or lung cancer. But here's another good reason: Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and possible tooth loss. And although not necessarily life-threatening, losing your teeth can have a negative effect on your overall health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, individuals who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop gum disease, and four times as likely the infection will become advanced. Your risk may also increase if you're regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.
There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. For one, smokers are less likely than non-smokers to recognize they have gum disease, at least initially, because they may not display classic symptoms of an infection like red, swollen or bleeding gums. This happens because the nicotine in tobacco smoke interferes with normal blood circulation. As a result, their gums may appear healthy when they're not.
That same circulation interference can also inhibit the production and supply of antibodies to fight infection. Not only can this intensify the infection, it can also slow healing and complicate treatment. In fact, smokers are more likely to have repeated episodes of infection, a condition called refractory periodontitis.
But there is good news—smoking's effect on your gum health doesn't have to be permanent. As soon as you stop, your body will begin to repair the damage; the longer you abstain from the habit, the more your gum health will improve. For example, one national study found that former smokers who had not smoked for at least eleven years were able to achieve an equal risk of gum disease with someone who had never smoked.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it can be done. If abrupt cessation (“cold turkey”) is too much for you, there are medically-supported cessation programs using drugs or other techniques that can help you kick the habit. And while it may be a long road, leaving smoking behind is an important step toward improving and maintaining good dental health.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”