Why Your Teeth Could Be Killing You
By Jacques Fleury
[First published in Spare Change News.net]
My motivation for writing this article is simple: to alert people about the correlation between poor dental hygiene and systemic pathology like Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and what you can do to protect yourself.
First and foremost, I do not profess to be a medical doctor nor am I a health and wellness expert; however I do have a medical background, understanding and personal experiences that I think are applicable to the subject matter of which I will attempt to write about. I have completed one year at Mass Bay College’s Nursing Program which included Fundamentals of Nursing, Biology I & II, Anatomy and Physiology, Nutrition, Microbiology and Medical Terminology just to name a few before I changed my major to Liberal Arts and transferred to UMass Boston upon graduation.
The other criteria of which I think is of critical importance in writing this article is that my father recently died of CHD and his doctors concluded that there was an undeniable connection between his heart disease and his poor dental hygiene. My brother—who took care of dad and who is also a medical doctor specializing in cardiology—was in agreement with his medical contemporaries regarding the link between dad’s neglect of his teeth and gums and his heart disease. My father—who was a professional man with his own business in Haiti—neglected to take care of his teeth for years. Even as one spoke to him, one could see the debris of bacteria nesting like yellow swirls in his teeth and gums but no one dared to tell him about it; that is until it was too late.
Based on my own personal experience I’ve noticed that a lot of people here in America do not consider going to the dentist or dental hygienist on a regular basis. People are often leery of the dentist with their dreadful drills that triggers shivers of fear and anxiety in their patients. I’ve seen some of my acquaintances; friends and even family members lose some of their teeth due to poor dental care. To prove my point, even health insurance providers like Mass Health who offers medical coverage to the disabled and families with dependent children only recently offered dental coverage to their participants. I suppose they did not consider “dental care” as a necessary part of the general physical and preventive health maintenance ideology. Mass Health have narrowed their dental coverage to only include mostly preventive care such as but not limited to regular cleanings and check-ups.
I would not be writing about this subject had I not been able to relate it to myself. I have been maintaining regular dental hygiene appointments for years now, every six months to be exact. Even more diligently since I’ve lost my dad to heart disease back in 2005.
“Over the past decade, an increasing amount of research have been conducted that supports the association between periodontal diseases and systemic disease, “declares Mea A. Weinberg, DMD, MSD, RPH, a clinical associate professor of Periodontology and Implant Dentistry at New York University in her article, “The Fire Within: The Link between oral inflammation and systemic health has signaled a paradigm shift in treating the periodontal patient.” She goes on to say that, “The role that inflammation plays as a pathway to the rest of the body is becoming much better understood, making the control and prevention of gingivitis and periodontitis a critical part of optimal patient care.” Because new research have come to light to illuminate these silent potential killers known as gingivitis and periodontitis (which in laymen’s terms means inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding the teeth), more people are becoming aware and paying more attention to their own esoteric practice of dental hygiene. One of my male friends has recently told me that he too have known about the dental/heart connection since high school and his only 34 years old. He said that he had known that flossing was imperative to good dental care and have been doing it regularly since then. “The oral cavity is the portal to the rest of the body,” states Weinberg, “…an emerging body of evidence has linked oral infections—primarily chronic inflammatory periodontitis—to systemic conditions including atherosclerosis…”
Dr. Dan Peterson of Family Dental Care in his article, “Oral Health and Your Heart” concurs with Weinberg by promulgating that, “Periodontitis seems to influence the occurrence and the severity of coronary artery disease and increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, and the study proposes two hypotheses for this occurrence. One hypothesis is that periodontal pathogens could enter the blood stream, invade the blood vessel walls and ultimately cause atherosclerosis. (Atherosclerosis is a multistage process set in motion when cells lining the arteries are damaged as a result of high blood pressure, smoking, toxic substances, and other agents.)” Dr. Peterson also highlights the astounding fact that the correlation between gum disease and heart attacks is considerably higher than the association between high cholesterol and heart attacks. He says that, “New studies suggest that people who have gum disease seem to be at higher risk for heart attacks, although no one knows how this relationship works. Your oral health affects your overall health, but the studies that will find exactly why these problems are linked are still underway.”
Peterson also emphasizes the point that flossing is imperative and integral to your dental and essentially systemic health. How can gum disease affect your overall health? Well, according to Peterson, “…bacteria present in infected gums can come loose and move throughout the body. The same bacteria that cause gum disease and irritate our gums might travel to your arteries.”
So although the research showing the connection between poor dental hygiene and heart disease is inconclusive, it is imperative that you keep your mouth healthy and see your dentist and/or dental hygienist regularly or at least twice yearly. My dental hygienist recommended that I brush my teeth with the electronic tooth brush Sonic Care, she also related to me that the sound that it makes as you are brushing have a germ killing affect. Sonic Care can be expensive; a more affordable alternative is Spin Brush Pro Clean Sonic which essentially is just as effective. Another dental health tip that my hygienist informed me of is that flossing is even more critically important than brushing. I have personally found that when I went to see my hygienist, I discovered that my teeth had more plaque (a bacteria-containing film on a tooth) and my gums used to be more inflamed before I started flossing regularly.
“Infected gums bleed, making it easier for bacteria to enter your bloodstream,” professes Dr. Peterson. “If bacteria become dislodged, the bacteria enter through cuts or sores in your mouth and travel to other parts of your body through your bloodstream…This can cause arterial plaque to accumulate in the arteries; which can cause hardening and affect blood-flow. Compromised blood-flow to your heart can cause a heart attack.” Peterson also reminds us that gum disease is most definitely the result of plaque buildup. So to minimize your chances of getting gum disease which can compromise the homeostasis of your heart, remember to brush, floss, floss and floss some more on a regular basis and preferably after each meal and most definitely before you go to bed; so then you won’t have to worry your head about the health of your heart.
Jacques Fleury’s book: “Sparks in the Dark: A Lighter Shade of Blue, A Poetic Memoir” about life in Haiti & America was featured in the Boston Globe & available at www.lulu.com. His CD “A Lighter Shade of Blue” with the folk group “Sweet Wednesday” to benefit Haiti charity St. Boniface is available on iTunes. Contact Jacques at: firstname.lastname@example.org.