Wow, what a story this is going to be, saving lives in the dental office. Sure, my staff and I as well as most other dentists are CPR trained and yes we have a AED device to shock your heart if necessary to save your life, as do other dentists and we would be good people to have around in an emergency, but that is not what this article is all about. I am writing to you about the connection between your dental health and literally how long you live and how comfortable your life will be. As part of every adult examination in most dental offices patients stick their tongues out. They are not trying to make a social statement, no they are helping us do a thorough tissue screening for any signs of mouth cancer and the tongue and the back of the throat are prime spots to check along with the back of the mouth. Oh, mouth cancer doesn’t get the press that some other cancers do but don’t be fooled by this: it is a killer.
Did you know, more people die from oral cancer (8,000 to 10,000 deaths) than from cervical cancer or melanoma, which is a serious skin cancer? Early detection is critical to reducing the death rate. Here are the risk factors associated with oral cancer!
40+ years of age
Men twice as often as women
African Americans more that Caucasians
Compromised immune system
Damaging exposure to sunlight
What may be surprising is that 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who have NONE of the risk factors! Good oral cancer screening at each dental exam is a gentle way of helping ensure that we can save a patient’s life with early detection. A while back we discovered a small lump in the corner of one of our patients’ mouth. The biopsy determined that cancer was present. Early detection coupled with removal of the lump and associated nodes by the surgeon saved the life of a 33 year old man with a young family. Needless to say we got lots of thank yous. Routine dental visits combined with routine cancer screenings made this a story with a happy ending. There is now available the advanced early cancer detection device called a Velscope which uses florescence of the mouth to detect unhealthy tissue. Healthy tissue floresces and cancer and damaged tissue doesn’t. This cancer detecting procedure is often performed at no additional cost with each examination. In life saving, oral cancer is just the beginning! Do you want to add over six years to your life? Dr. Michael Roize, University of Chicago internist has been making headlines with his “real age” program, which he designed to provide a person with a valid age reduction plan. You may have read about it or seen him on Oprah or 20/20 or even bought his book. Maybe you were surprised that flossing and brushing ranks right up there with quitting smoking, taking your vitamins and reducing stress as one of the five things you can do to reduce your “real age” In fact keeping your teeth and gums healthy helps you add over 6 years to your life! How so? Just keep reading!
The nation’s number one cause of death is heart disease! One out of every two women will die of this disease. Did you know that there is a strong connection between people with gum disease (a serious bacterial infection that destroys the attachment fibers and supporting bone that holds your teeth in your mouth) and people that suffer heart disease? The risk of heart attack and stroke is about twice as high in people with periodontal (gum) disease. It seems that the bacteria involved in gum disease can damage the lining of blood vessels and can cause the formation of potentially fatal blood clots. There is a protein formed in the body called C- Reactive Protein that has been implicated in causing damage to blood vessels and to the heart. It is a product of chronic infection which of course describes gum disease to a Tee. These same heart damaging and stroke causing bacteria can also cause certain lung infections. Gum disease bacteria have been implicated in bacterial pneumonia and also they are apparently a cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, (COPD). The research in these areas is ongoing. It appears that small bits of bacterial plaque (the stuff that builds up on our teeth) break off and are breathed into our lungs where they cause infections (pneumonia).
In a letter I received from Peggy Fleming in October of 2004 she stated “stroke is the number one reason that people move into nursing homes and the third leading cause of death in the United States.” She stated further “50% of all strokes occur in people who show no symptoms.” Peggy, having had serious health problems in her own life, encourages everyone to have screenings done to possibly save their own life or the life of a loved one. Needless to save a stroke or multiple strokes can end a persons’ life or seriously reduce the quality of its victims’ remaining months or years. There is more! Did you know that 12% of the babies born in the United States are born prematurely?(Before 37 weeks of pregnancy) which increases their risk of death and lasting disabilities. These include mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lung and gastrointestinal problems, vision and hearing loss all of which are horrible to contemplate in the life of children and their parent! Pre-term, births have soared to become the #1 obstetric problem in the U.S. Research has shown that this can probably be avoided by simply seeing a dentist for a periodontal examination before and during pregnancy. The recommendation during pregnancy is to have a visit with the hygienist every three months which is only one more visit than the every three month recommendation for routine preventive dental care! Pregnant women who have had periodontal disease may be 7 times more likely to have a baby that is born too early or too small. Research shows that the bacteria that cause periodontal (gum) infections cause a faster-than-normal increase in the levels of prostaglandin and other factors that cause labor to start early, leading to premature delivery. Getting rid of the bacteria that cause this condition through a simple procedure called scaling and root planning is the key to an on time delivery and a healthy baby. This common dental procedure has been shown to reduce a mother’s chance of having a pre term birth by up to 84%. The second trimester is a safe time during pregnancy to do dental procedures. After all, every mother wants to have a healthy baby! This simple preventive hygiene appointment is also, I am told, one of the best ways to prevent preventable miscarriages. So what are some of the signs of gum disease?
Bleeding gums while brushing
Red swollen or tender gums
Gums that receded away from the tooth
Persistent bad breath
Pus between the teeth and gums
Loose or separating teeth
A change in the feel of your bite If you want to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and take care of the rest of your body at the same time, it’s not quite as simple as regular flossing. Some suggestions that will be well worth your time and effort are:
Use a soft tooth brush and toss it when the bristles fray
Use a fluoride toothpaste to reduce cavities
Brush gently, angling toward the gums for about 2 minutes
Gently floss (Glide is a good brand) between each tooth
Check your brushing with a disclosing solution or tablet ( if in doubt)
Stop using tobacco products (we can help)
Watch for signs of gum disease (see above)
Be aware of habits such as destructive teeth grinding (we can help)
Some drugs such as contraceptives, antidepressants and heart medicines can negatively affect your oral health by reducing saliva flow which dries the mouth
Regular hygiene visits and maintenance visits are some of your weapons against gum disease. I read an insurance article recently entitled “The True Cost of a Cavity” The article explained that the average cost to maintain a restored cavity (filling) in the molar of a ten year old reaches $2,187 by the time he or she is age 79. Dr. Max Anderson explains in the article, “There are currently no permanent materials available to treat cavities, so the lifetime cost of maintaining teeth that have been treated for decay far outpaces any out of pocket costs you might spend to prevent decay in the first place. When a patient works with his or her dentist, cavities are almost entirely preventable.” What’s this I hear about soft drinks!
Here is the latest information on soft drinks. Be aware that the decay rate has shot way up, back to pre-fluoride days. Yikes! Soft drinks are being blamed for this large upsurge in teenage tooth decay. The average consumption of soft drinks in the U.S. in 2002 was approximately 53 gallons per person per year. That is 16 ounces per day. Realize that some people drink no soft drinks, while others drink several cans a day. Typically soft drinks consumed at mealtime are less injurious than those consumed alone. Continuous sipping is considered more harmful to teeth than drinking an entire beverage at once. The acid content has been implicated as the cause of decay even more than the sugar and corn syrup in the sodas.
Most soft drinks contain one or more food acids; phosphoric and citric acids are common, but malic, tartaric and organic acids also may be present. These acids cause tooth erosion, and irreversible, painless loss of tooth enamel. There is no question that erosion causes significant damage to dental enamel, particularly among young people. Understand that bacteria work to get through the enamel, which has little “food value” for them where as the inner part of a tooth, the dentin, seems to be more to their liking. Acid erosion makes their job a lot easier and so the decay rate skyrockets! SO ARE SOME SOFT DRINKS BETTER AND SOME WORSE? I THOUGHT YOU WOULD NEVER ASK!
Tap water and root beer have little to no effect on enamel. Brewed black tea and black coffee dissolve enamel several times faster than water. Cola drinks dissolved enamel 55-65 times faster than water and root beer. Now, surprise, surprise, non-cola drinks were 90-180 times faster at dissolving enamel than water! IT DID NOT MATTER IF THE SOFT DRINK WAS A DIET OR REGULAR VERSION! Root beer appears to be the least damaging soft drink for the health of tooth enamel while non cola drinks including canned ice tea such as Arizona were worse. Sports drinks and “energy drinks, such as Gatorade, Red Bull, Monster and the Snapple tea products have even more acids. I am told there are numerous other reasons to avoid soft drinks in our diet, such as the epidemic of diabetes occurring in America; however that is a topic for another report. Suffice it to say ongoing research is painting a not so pretty picture of soft drinks and health. So” a word to the wise” as they say. What you decide to do is up to you!
This article was written in the hope that it would arm you with information that would enable you to make wise decisions regarding your dental health and as you can now see these decisions have a major impact on your general health and quality of life as well. Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic fame, stated years ago from his observations over the course of his practice life that a healthy mouth he felt added ten years to a person’s life. I believe that he was correct. Now you too know how to add a decade, a healthy decade, not one in a nursing home, to your life. Go for it, make those changes.
Ralph F. Parkin D.M.D.