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Health Team

Oral hygiene can impact more than just the mouth

Posted January 17, 2012

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— The obvious advantages of proper oral hygiene – like keeping teeth where they are supposed to be – are no secret, but new research continues to show that people who take good care of their mouth can also be taking care of their heart and mind. 

The problem, according to periodontist Steve Offenbacher, is that most adults don't practice oral hygiene that is good enough. 

Usually, that lack of attention leads to gum disease, which impacts about half of all adults in the United States, Offenbacher said. Sometimes, however, the problems can spread past the mouth. 

For the 15 percent of people who have severe gum disease, the issues created by poor oral hygiene can lead to much more than just tooth loss. At times, the medical issues brought on by gum disease can be serious and potentially life-threatening. 

"If you have gum disease, for example, you're twice as likely to have a heart attack and three times as likely to have a fatal stroke," Offenbacher, a doctor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical Center, said. 

It starts with bacterial growth that can lead to infection and inflammation. Those problems can spread into the bloodstream. 

"It begins this sort of cascade of inflammation," Offenbacher said. "And it can move through the bloodstream to vital organs." 

People who smoke, have Type 1 diabetes or a family history of gum disease are especially at risk.

Jay Langhurst has always been a little more aware of his health, but it wasn't initially because of gum disease. He has Type 1 diabetes. 

"I can tell when everything is normal and when blood sugars are elevated, there is usually something wrong," he said. 

Oral hygiene impacts gums Oral hygiene impacts gums

Doctors tried conservative treatments to clean out the infection, but they were unsuccessful. Eventually, Langhurst and his doctors decided surgery was the best option.

Now, Langhurst is more careful about his oral care because he knows the potential impact it could have on his body. 

Offenbacher says periodontal research is aimed at finding out who is genetically at higher risk for gum disease. That could help doctors personalize care for those patients to help manage their condition. 

As usual, doctors recommend two trips to the dentist every year, even for people with no history of gum disease. 

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  • Frank Downtown Jan 19, 2012

    Thanks tdaniels11! You make my point, too!

  • tdaniels11 Jan 18, 2012

    Uh??? jwms32 you totally missed the point. A toothbrush and floss are pretty inexpensive. 2 cleanings a year would run you about $50/month. That's NOT too expensive to save your teeth. However, if you have not kept up your maintenance (kinda like a car) things break down. If this is the situation you are in then yes, your dental care is now expensive. Let's just say a person hasn't had any cleanings in 10 years by a dentist. This means they have NOT spent the $600/year for "maintenance". This equals $6,000 not spent over the course of 10 years. Soooo, when one does show up after 10 years expecting their care to be cheap is just unreasonable.
    On another note a pack of cigarettes is $5.00. A fifth is alcohol is $12.00 and up. A smoker spends $1825/year if they smoke a pack a day. I wonder if they would think seeing a doctor for lung cancer would be too expensive. Bottom line is.... you may have been burned by a not so great dentist and in life , it's all about priorities and perspective

  • jwms32 Jan 18, 2012

    Well....Maybe if dental work wasn't so flippin' expensive then there wouldn't be so much poor dental hygiene!! It's like everything else, too expensive and dentists are overrated!

  • solarflare40 Jan 18, 2012

    It most certainly can! ;-)