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How Your Oral Health Affects Your Overall Wellness

Brushing, flossing, and regular visits to the dentist can protect you from far more than cavities.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Eric Yabu, DDS

When Joanne Maglares, now 50, visited her dentist for a broken tooth from chewing on ice, she had no inkling that her overall health was in jeopardy. A scholarship coordinator at a New York City high school and mother of four, she was so consumed with work and family that she often ignored her own well-being.

But her dentist took one look at her mouth, noticed multiple tooth fractures and rapidly advancing gum (periodontal) disease, and surmised that she had an underlying health problem."Those were red flags that something was not right," says her dentist, Maria Emanuel Ryan, DDS, PhD, professor of oral biology and pathology at Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine.

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Ryan urged Maglares to see her primary care doctor to get to the root of the problem. She was diagnosed and treated for high blood pressure and anemia. Five months later, she suffered a massive heart attack.

Oral Health, Overall Health

Researchers know there's a synergic relationship between oral health and overall wellness. Gum disease is linked to a host of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. By combing through 1,000-plus medical histories, researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry found that people with gum disease were twice as likely as others to die from a heart attack and three times as likely to have a stroke.

Gum disease is the most common chronic inflammatory condition in the world, yet it's often a silent disease, Ryan says. Why? The mouth can act as a portal of entry for an infection, says Salomon Amar, DMD, PhD, professor and director at the Center for Anti-inflammatory Therapeutics at Boston University School of Dental Medicine. Ongoing inflammation in your mouth can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which may lead to more inflammation in other parts of your body, such as the heart.

Some studies point to a reciprocal relationship between gum disease and diabetes."When you treat and control diabetes, immediately the condition in the mouth improves. And when you treat periodontal disease, the need for insulin is reduced," Amar says.

Maglares is on the road to recovery and indebted to her dentist. "If I hadn't gone to the dentist, I don't know if I'd be alive today. I pay a lot more attention to my teeth and gums. I believe it's all connected."

Reviewed on April 29, 2011

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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