When thinking about staying healthy as you age, the state of your oral health may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But, in fact, your oral health can provide clues as to your overall health, and problems there can affect your physical health, as well.
According to the ADA (American Dental Academy), research has shown that more than 90 percent of systematic diseases – such as diabetes, leukemia, osteoporosis and heart disease – have oral health consequences, including tooth decay and periodontal disease (gum disease). Certain common medications, such as pain killers, antidepressants, blood thinners and diuretics can reduce salivary flow. And that increases the bacteria in your mouth, contributing to tooth decay, periodontal disease and chronic candidiasis (thrush).
Cardiologists and dentists agree that poor oral health, especially gum disease, is strongly linked to heart disease; in fact, gum disease is included as a risk factor for coronary artery disease. It’s also an important risk factor for other diseases of the blood vessels and arteries, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Why? Because the bacteria found in both gum disease and heart disease are similar, and inflammation is found in both diseases, as well.
What can you do to maintain good oral health? Good oral hygiene is the key to prevention. As a registered dental hygienist, the first thing I teach my patients is that there are five keys to oral health maintenance:
• Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a soft-bristled brush;
• Change your toothbrush every 2-3 months;
• Use an interproximal device (i.e. dental floss) to clean between teeth daily;
• Eat a healthy diet and limit between-meal snacks; and
• Visit your dentist for cleanings and a check-up every six months.
With regular oral exams, a dentist or hygienist may be the first one to identify potentially harmful diseases in the early stages and guide you to the best possible treatment or prevention. In addition, it’s important to keep your dental team updated with any changes in your medical history or medications. By doing so, you will be taking the best possible care of your oral health, which just might be the best investment you can make in your overall health!
Andrea is the dental hygienist in the on-site medical clinic at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where there is a dentist on-site to treat the Center’s 460 residents three days a week.
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