“I floss and brush, isn’t that enough to take care of dental health?” Yes, if all you want to do is the bare minimum and do not mind if your teeth do not last as long as the rest of your body. An article on “the mouth-body connection,” by Bonnie Blodgett gave me a lot of food for thought on the relationship between the health of teeth and gums and various conditions, such as diabetes and bone loss. As a provider of home care for seniors, I knew my company’s whole-person wellness approach takes care of the body, but I had not considered how it also supports dental health, and in a circular fashion, that dental health helps keep the body in better shape.
Vincent J. Iacono, DMD and former president of the American Academy of Peridontology, says there is a definite connection between oral health and overall health. To explain, he uses the analogy of a river (the bloodstream), which carries toxins and pollutants (bad mouth bacteria) downstream, damaging other pristine locations (arteries of the heart). The resulting “environmental” disaster could be a heart attack or stroke.
The connection is not just between teeth and hearts, either. For decades, dentists have associated periodontal disease (gum disease) with chronic disease, including diabetes, bone loss, lung disorders and even with problems in the brain. Dr. Iacono says he knows that people who keep their teeth tend to live longer– health that is sufficient to keep teeth present and properly functioning is also going to keep your body working well.
To get your teeth into it, if you’ll pardon the pun, here’s what to do to maintain good dental and overall health.
- Brush after meals and floss daily. If flossing is hard due to dexterity, ask your dentist about flossing tools to help.
- Eat a heart healthy diet—lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
- See your dentist at least annually. Give the dentist a list of current medications.
- Exercise regularly to keep your blood flowing.
- Don’t smoke. Tobacco is the number one culprit for causing dental infections.
- Know your family history; periodontal disease is hereditary.
- Talk to your doctor about antibiotics prior to a dental visit if you have a heart condition. This precaution could mean you do not develop a post-visit infection in your heart.
And don’t forget: get a new toothbrush often. My dentist provides one that says, “Use fuzzy end.”