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.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
For most of us, brushing and flossing is a routine part of daily life. But has it become such a routine that you may not be getting the most out of your daily regimen?
First, let's be clear about what you're trying to accomplish with these two important hygiene tasks, which is to remove as much accumulated dental plaque as possible. This thin film of bacteria and food particles is the primary cause for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
So how can you tell if you're effectively cleaning dental plaque from your teeth? Here are 4 ways to check your brushing and flossing skills.
The tongue test. Move your tongue across the surface of your teeth, especially at the gum line, immediately after brushing and flossing. "Plaque-free" teeth will feel smooth and slick. If you feel any grittiness, though, you may be missing some plaque.
Floss check. For a similar effect after your daily hygiene take a fresh piece of floss and run it up and down your teeth. If the teeth are clean and you are using un-waxed floss, the floss should "squeak" as you move it up and down.
Disclosing agents. You can also occasionally use a plaque disclosing agent. This product contains a solution you apply to your teeth after brushing and flossing that will dye any leftover plaque a specific color. Disclosing agents are handy for uncovering specific areas that require more of your future hygiene attention. And don't worry—the dye is temporary and will fade quickly.
Dental visits. For the ultimate test, visit your dentist at least twice a year. Not only can dental cleanings remove hard to reach plaque and calculus (hardened tartar), but your dentist or hygienist can evaluate how well you've been doing. Consider it your "final exam" for oral hygiene!
Be sure to also ask your dental provider for tips and training in better brushing and flossing. Becoming more effective at these critical tasks helps ensure you're keeping your teeth and gums free of disease.
If you would like more information on best oral hygiene practices, 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 “Daily Oral Hygiene: Easy Habits for Maintaining Oral Health.”
Besides attractively showcasing your teeth, your gums protect your teeth and underlying bone from bacteria and abrasive food particles. Sometimes, though, the gums can pull back or recede from the teeth, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to damage and disease.
Here are 4 things that could contribute to gum recession—and what you can do about them.
Periodontal (gum) disease. This family of aggressive gum infections is by far the most common cause for recession. Triggered mainly by bacterial plaque, gum disease can cause the gums to detach and then recede from the teeth. To prevent gum disease, you should practice daily brushing and flossing and see your dentist at least twice a year to thoroughly remove plaque. And see your dentist as soon as possible for diagnosis and treatment at the first sign of red, swollen or bleeding gums.
Tooth position. While a tooth normally erupts surrounded by bone, sometimes it erupts out of correct alignment and is therefore outside the bony housing and protective gum tissue. Orthodontic treatment to move teeth to better positions can correct this problem, as well as stimulate the gum tissues around the involved teeth to thicken and become more resistant to recession.
Thin gum tissues. Thin gum tissues, a quality you inherit from your parents, are more susceptible to wear and tear and so more likely to recede. If you have thin gum tissues you'll need to stay on high alert for any signs of disease or problems. And you should also be mindful of our next common cause, which is….
Overaggressive hygiene. While it seems counterintuitive, brushing doesn't require a lot of "elbow grease" to remove plaque. A gentle scrubbing motion over all your tooth surfaces is usually sufficient. On the other hand, applying too much force (or brushing too often) can damage your gums over time and cause them to recede. And as we alluded to before, this is especially problematic for people with thinner gum tissues. So brush gently but thoroughly to protect your gums.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession, 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 “Gum Recession.”
Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”
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