HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 13 Researchers have long been examining the link between oral health and overall health. In fact, more than 2,000 years ago, it was Hippocrates who suggested that removing an infected tooth could cure arthritis. It's not news that the mouth is connected to the rest of the body and that the mouth oftentimes is the location used to diagnose, make a prognosis, treat and intervene on a host of diseases. The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) stresses the importance of recognizing the connection between oral health and overall health, and maintaining good oral health as part of sustaining good overall health.
"Many of my patients ask me why they have problems with their teeth," said Dr. Bruce Terry, a PDA member and endodontist from Wayne. "They brush twice daily, but they don't see a dentist until they have dental pain or a broken tooth. I have to explain to all of my patients that annual visits to the dentist are not just to get your teeth polished. Dentists are trained to look for many systemic diseases just by looking into someone's mouth. Eating disorders and stress related tooth grinding are easily spotted during an oral exam. A patient complaining of a dry mouth can suggest many problems that require possible medical attention. Dental radiographs don't just show cavities, they can also show early signs of osteoporosis. Going to the dentist can literally save your life!"
While studies are ongoing to determine the exact links between oral health and overall health, it is clear that oral health must be viewed as part of the big overall health picture. For example, some studies have concluded that periodontitis, an advanced form of gum disease, can also be linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, preterm births and low-birth weight babies. Several other studies have concluded that diabetics are at higher risk for periodontal disease than nondiabetics, and some evidence exists that blood-sugar levels decreased when gum disease was treated in the diabetic patient. Dental problems not only cause pain and suffering, but can also lead to difficulty speaking, chewing and swallowing, which can affect the ability to consume the nutrition your body needs to stay healthy. Also, people who smoke or drink alcohol are at greater risk for developing periodontitis and other oral health diseases, such as oral cancer.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the ADA Foundation recently partnered to introduce a new program, OralLongevityTM, that will provide older adults, their families and caregivers and dental professionals with the education and other free resources necessary to increase their awareness of the need for better oral health. Consumers can download the free educational DVD and brochure at http://www.orallongevity.ada.org/ada/orallongevity/orallongevity_dvd.asp.
Given the evidence of the correlation between oral health and overall well-being, prevention of periodontitis may turn out to be an important step in maintaining overall health, and PDA offers the following tips to stay healthy:
-- Tell your dentist about your overall health, especially regarding any illness or chronic conditions. Provide a full health history to your dentist, including medication use, both prescription and over-the-counter products, and let your dentist know when there are changes.
-- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
-- Floss daily to help remove plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that gets stuck between the teeth and under the gums.
-- Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups to help prevent problems from occurring and detect possible problems in their early stages.
-- Eat a well-balanced diet, which can aid in maintaining a healthier immune system, help prevent h