While a number of studies already link poor oral health to compromised overall health, recently published research also suggests a possible correlation between gum disease and the risk of respiratory infections, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. These serious infections can be instigated when bacteria from the upper throat are inhaled into the lower respiratory tract. The first logical line of defense is to therefore reduce the amount of bacteria produced in the mouth.
If tooth brushing and flossing are not automatic habits for you, you may be encouraging the production of bacteria, thus opening yourself up to the risk of infection and disease, including gum disease.
Gum disease is caused by plaque, a clear, sticky film of bacteria that forms on your teeth. If it is not removed every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar and can lead to an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. If unattended, this could lead to gingivitis, and then periodontitis — an advanced stage of gum disease.
Periodontitis can result in serious damage as the gums and bone that support the teeth deteriorate, leading to loose teeth, and even tooth loss. Be on the lookout for the following signs of gum disease:
- Gums that bleed when you brush your teeth.
- Red, swollen or tender gums.
- Gums that have receded from the teeth.
- Persistent bad breath.
- A change in the way your teeth or partial dentures fit together when you bite.
Brushing and flossing thoroughly to remove the bacteria that initiate the decay process, eating healthy foods and visiting the dentist for regular, professional cleanings are simple yet effective ways to help avoid this preventable disease.
OPEN WIDE… THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION!
While medications are designed to make us feel better, in some cases their side effects can instigate a second, completely different, problem. That’s why dentists encourage patients to “open up,” in more ways than one!
If you have medical conditions, or if you are taking any medications, please make sure we’re aware of them at the start of your dental visit.
Both daily prescription-strength medications and occasional over-the-counter drugs can have temporary, or even permanent, effects on your oral health. For example, hundreds of common medications, including antihistamines and high blood pressure treatments, can cause side effects that affect your oral health. There may be noticeable changes to your soft tissues, or gum overgrowth, and you may even experience changes to your sense of taste.
Dry mouth is another common side effect of certain medications, including asthma medications and antidepressants. The condition, which leaves the mouth without enough saliva to wash away food from your teeth, may leave you more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease, and can cause sore throats, problems with speaking, and difficulty swallowing, in addition to fungal infections and bad breath. Some coping mechanisms to deal with dry mouth include sipping water regularly, chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy, breathing through your nose and not your mouth, and, of course, brushing your teeth at least twice a day and seeing your dentist regularly. Ask us for information on moisturizing mouth spray and other dry mouth coping mechanisms, too.
People with certain medical conditions may require special consideration in the dental chair. For example, patients with low blood pressure may require a more upright positioning in the dental chair. Did you know that a high consumption of herbal teas could cause low blood pressure? Low blood pressure puts people at risk of fainting in the dental chair, so in addition to updating us on the drugs you are taking, make sure you keep us advised of any herbal remedies or alternative medicines you may be taking, too, as most people don’t realize that multivitamins, ginseng tablets and herbal teas can also be considered drugs.
If you’ve had heart surgery or joint replacement, or are immunosupressed due to illness, radiation treatment or a drug you are taking, please let us know. Sometimes we need to prescribe antibiotics before we even start dental work, in order to avoid possible infection or complications in the event you bleed during your dental procedure.
As you know, our office keeps a file on your dental history. In that file is also any background information you’ve shared with us about any medical conditions you have or any medications you may be taking. Some drugs can interact with medications that we may need to prescribe for your dental work, so it’s important that we know which drugs you are taking and in what doses.
Please also remember to share your oral health history with your physician as, while you may not link your gum disease to your overall health, research has shown that gum disease is a chronic inflammatory disease that may put you at a higher risk for other diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Be sure to let your dentist or periodontist know if you have any of these medical conditions, or if you have a family history of disease.