At this time of year, hearts are everywhere you look, so it's fitting that February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the number one cause of death around the world. But did you know that there's a link between the health of your heart and the health of your mouth?
People with advanced gum disease have a higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event, but what is the connection? For one, oral bacteria found in gum disease can enter the bloodstream, where it has been found in artery-clogging plaque. In addition, untreated gum disease has been determined to worsen high blood pressure, a major contributor to heart attack, stroke and heart failure. One study reported that when gum disease was treated, high blood pressure fell by up to 13 points. But perhaps the most significant common denominator between gum disease and heart disease is inflammation, according to many researchers.
Gum disease is the most common inflammatory disease, affecting nearly 50% of US adults over 30, and 70% of those aged 65 and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The body's inflammation response is a key weapon in fighting infection. However, when there is chronic low-level inflammation such as occurs with untreated periodontal (gum) disease, many adverse health effects can result. In one Harvard University study, chronic inflammation was found to triple the risk of heart attack and double the risk of stroke.
The relationship between gum disease and heart disease is still not completely understood, but there's no denying that a connection exists between the two, so it's worth doing what you can to take care of both your gums and your cardiovascular health. Here are some tips:
- Eat a heart-healthy—and gum-healthy—diet. A diet low in refined carbohydrates, high in fiber, vitamins C and D, antioxidants and Omega-3s has been shown to lower inflammation, benefitting your gums and your heart.
- Quit smoking. Using tobacco in any form is a risk factor for developing both gum disease and heart disease.
- Take care of your oral health. Gum disease can often be prevented—and reversed if caught early—simply with good oral hygiene, so be diligent about brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day.
- Come in for regular cleanings and checkups. Regular cleanings can help keep your gums healthy, and an examination can determine if you have gum disease. Be sure to tell us about any medical conditions or medications.
As you think about what you can do to take care of your heart health and overall health, don't forget your gums. If you have questions about how to improve your oral health, call us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall” and “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Implant-supported fixed bridges are growing in popularity because they offer superior support to traditional bridges or dentures. They can also improve bone health thanks to the affinity between bone cells and the implants' titanium posts.
Even so, you'll still need to stay alert to the threat of periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection usually triggered by dental plaque could ultimately infect the underlying bone and cause it to deteriorate. As a result the implants could loosen and cause you to lose your bridgework.
To avoid this you'll need to be as diligent with removing plaque from around your implants as you would with natural teeth. The best means for doing this is to floss around each implant post between the bridgework and the natural gums.
This type of flossing is quite different than with natural teeth where you work the floss in between each tooth. With your bridgework you'll need to thread the floss between it and the gums with the help of a floss threader, a small handheld device with a loop on one end and a stiff flat edge on the other.
To use it you'll first pull off about 18" of dental floss and thread it through the loop. You'll then gently work the sharper end between the gums and bridge from the cheek side toward the tongue. Once through to the tongue side, you'll hold one end of the floss and pull the floss threader away with the other until the floss is now underneath the bridge.
You'll then loop each end of the floss around your fingers on each hand and work the floss up and down the sides of the nearest tooth or implant. You'll then release one hand from the floss and pull the floss out from beneath the bridge. Rethread it in the threader and move to the next section of the bridge and clean those implants.
You can also use other methods like specialized floss with stiffened ends for threading, an oral irrigator (or "water flosser") that emits a pressurized spray of water to loosen plaque, or an interproximal brush that can reach into narrow spaces. If you choose an interproximal brush, however, be sure it's not made with metal wire, which can scratch the implant and create microscopic crevices for plaque.
Use the method you and your dentist think best to keep your implants plaque-free. Doing so will help reduce your risk of a gum infection that could endanger your implant-supported bridgework.
If you would like more information on implant-supported bridges, 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 “Oral Hygiene for Fixed Bridgework.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
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