gmhTODAY 25 gmhTODAY April May 2019 - Page 78

Crystal Hann health WISE Crystal Han is a freelance writer and artist. She graduated from San José State University with a BFA in Animation/Illustration and is an aspiring novelist, currently working on two books. Fighting Tooth Decay Keeps the Doctor Away H ave you ever heard the saying, “Everything is connected”? You may not think that applies to your dental health, but the truth is that a healthy mouth is critical to our overall health and well-being. When dentists look into our mouths, they can often spot signs of other health issues just by looking at our teeth and gums. For instance, pale or bleeding gums can be a marker for certain blood disorders, and changes in teeth appearance, such as tooth erosion, can be a sign of anorexia or bulimia. The most significant indicator of other diseases and conditions, however, is periodontitis, more widely known as gum disease. The human mouth contains more bacteria than any other part of our bodies. It even has more than what you’d find on a public toilet seat! When we don’t take proper care of our teeth and gums, it allows all of those bacteria to reach levels that can lead to oral infec- tions like tooth decay and gum disease. Gum disease is the sixth most prevalent chronic condition in the world, affecting 745 million people, and it is no joke. Many doctors and dentists recognize gum disease as a risk factor for several conditions, the most prevalent of which are discussed below. Type 2 Diabetes A study conducted on 9,296 non-diabetic participants found that the people who had higher levels of gum disease were twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the participants who had little to no gum disease. The exact reason for this is still unclear, but researchers think that the infections in the mouth cause low-grade inflammation throughout the body, especially in the pancreas. Doctors and dentists have noticed a reciprocal effect between gum disease and diabetes. If the patient’s dental health improves, then their diabetes also improves, and vice versa. 78 Pancreatic Cancer Pregnancy Complications Because gum disease wreaks so much havoc on the pancreas, it also increases the risk of pancreatic cancer. Scientists still aren’t sure why the pancreas is so heavily affected by gum disease, but they suspect that it may have to do with increased levels of carcino- genic compounds that an infected mouth produces. While they may not know the exact mechanism yet, there is a clear-cut link between gum disease and pancreatic troubles. Gum disease can negatively impact the health of an unborn child. Many studies link gum disease to pre-term or low birth weight in babies. Babies that are born early or weigh less than 5.5 pounds have more risks of health problems during the first few days of their lives, or they might have delayed motor or social development later on. Cardiovascular Disease Poor dental health and cardiovascular risks also go hand in hand. The cardiology community now recognizes gum disease as a direct risk factor for coronary arterial disease, peripheral artery disease, and stroke. Chewing with an infected mouth pushes small amounts of bacteria into the bloodstream. These bits of bacteria lodge themselves inside the blood vessels, causing dangerous blockages. When looking at the blood vessels of patients with cardiovascular disease, scientists have found fragments of periodontal bacteria, which strengthens this theory. Some research has also found that the bacteria in gum disease is attracted to platelets, causing small clots to form and making patients more susceptible to stroke. Taking an aggressive approach to treat- ing gum disease has been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Sources: Woodham, Chai, “Mind Your Mouth: How Oral Health Affects Overall Health”, U.S. News, https://health. usnews.com/health-news/health- wellness/articles/2014/12/22/ mind-your-mouth-how-oral-health-affects- overall-health Lowenstein, Kate, “Dental Health and Overall Health”, EveryDay Health, https://www.everydayhealth.com/ dental-health/101.aspx GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN april/may 2019 Alzheimer’s An exact causal link between Alzheimer’s and gum disease hasn’t been discovered yet, but research has found that when bacteria from gum disease gets loose in the bloodstream, it can travel to the brain and cause brain tissue deterioration that is very similar to what is observed in Alzheimer’s patients. The early warning signs of gum disease are often silent. Be on the lookout for symptoms such as receding gums or longer appearing teeth, which may increase sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods. Swollen or red gums, or gums that are prone to bleeding when brushed, is another indicator. Chewing might also be painful, or there might be a persisting lousy taste in your mouth or bad breath that won’t go away. The increased frequency of mouth sores is another indicator for the beginning stages of gum disease. If you devote as much time and care to your oral hygiene as you would your entire body, you are less likely to develop any of these symptoms. Be sure to keep a consistent oral care regimen by brushing twice a day and flossing every day. Also, make sure to get regular dental visits and cleanings. As good as you might be about brushing and flossing, some bacteria still lingers and creates plaque buildup that only dentists and hygienists can catch. Your mouth, and your body will thank you! gmhtoday.com