This month there are hearts everywhere we look, so it's fitting that February is designated as American Heart Month. We join with the American Heart Association in the goal of spreading awareness of cardiovascular disease, the top cause of death around the world. And while we think about our heart health, let's talk about the connection between cardiovascular health and oral health.
Cardiovascular disease includes heart disease, high blood pressure and cerebrovascular disease (involving the blood vessels of the brain)—in short, diseases of the circulatory system that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Periodontal disease, in contrast, attacks the gums and other tissues that hold the teeth in place. The two conditions, however, have more in common than you might think.
Both periodontal (gum) disease and cardiovascular disease are chronic and progressive, and both are linked to inflammation. Periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease share certain inflammation markers detected in the blood that can damage blood vessels. Furthermore, specific types of oral bacteria associated with periodontal disease have been found in plaque that builds up inside of blood vessels, constricting blood flow.
People with gum disease are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease, and studies show that having advanced gum disease worsens existing heart conditions, increases the chances of having a stroke, and raises the risk of having a first heart attack by 28%. Untreated gum disease also makes hypertension (known as “the silent killer”) worse.
However, here's some encouraging news: Intensive treatment for gum disease was shown to result in significantly lower blood pressure. So, as you think about what you can do to take care of your heart health and overall health, don't forget your gums. Here are some tips:
Maintain a dedicated oral hygiene routine. A daily oral hygiene habit that includes brushing twice a day and flossing once a day is the best thing you can do to ward off gum disease.
Visit our office for regular dental checkups. Regular dental cleanings and checkups can keep you in the best oral health. Even with daily brushing and flossing, professional cleanings are needed to remove plaque and tartar from places a toothbrush can't reach, and regular checkups allow us to detect developing problems early.
Eat for good overall health. People who consume less sugar tend to have healthier teeth and gums as well as better overall health. An “anti-inflammatory diet” that is low in sugar and other refined carbohydrates and rich in whole grains, fiber and healthy fats can reduce inflammation throughout your body—and has been shown to greatly improve gum disease.
As a former Surgeon General once wrote, “You can't have general health without oral health.” So celebrate this month of hearts by showing love to your heart and your gums.
If you have questions about how to maintain good oral health, call us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall.”
If it seems like your teeth are getting longer as you get older, it's unlikely they're magically growing. More likely, your gums are shrinking or receding from your teeth. Besides the negative effect on your appearance, gum recession exposes you and vulnerable tooth areas to harmful bacteria and painful sensitivity.
Although common among older adults, gum recession isn't necessarily a part of aging: It's primarily caused by periodontal (gum) disease, in which infected gum tissues can weaken and detach from the teeth. This, along with bone loss, leads to recession.
But gum disease isn't the only cause—ironically, brushing your teeth to prevent dental disease can also contribute to recession. By brushing too aggressively or too often (more than twice a day), you could eventually damage the gums and cause them to recede. Tobacco use and oral piercings can also lead to weakened or damaged gums susceptible to recession.
You can lower your risk of gum recession by abstaining from unhealthy habits and proper oral hygiene to prevent gum disease. For the latter, your primary defense is gentle but thorough brushing and flossing every day to remove harmful dental plaque. You should also see your dentist at least twice a year for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
If, however, you do experience gum recession, there are a number of ways to restore your gums or at least minimize the recession. To start with, we must treat any gum disease present by thoroughly removing all plaque and tartar (calcified plaque), which fuels the infection. This reduces inflammation and allows the gums to heal.
With mild recession, the gums may rejuvenate enough tissue to recover the teeth during healing. If not, we may be able to treat exposed areas with a tooth-colored material that protects the surface, relieves discomfort and improves appearance.
If the recession is more advanced, we may still be able to stimulate gum regeneration by attaching a tissue graft with a micro-surgical procedure. These types of periodontal surgeries, however, can require a high degree of technical and artistic skill for best results.
In any event, the sooner we detect gum disease or recession, the quicker we can act to minimize the damage. Doing so will ensure your gums are healthy enough to protect your teeth and preserve your smile.
If you would like more information on gum recession, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Gum Recession.”
Dentures have come a long way since George Washington's time. Today, they're more comfortable, more secure and more lifelike than our first president's famous hippopotamus ivory appliance.
But one thing hasn't changed: Dentures still require regular care and cleaning. And one of the best things you can do for both your dentures and your health is to take them out at night when you go to bed.
Modern dentures are often so comfortable to wear, it's easy to forget you have them in your mouth. But setting a daily habit of taking them out when you turn in for the night will help you avoid a few potential problems.
For one, wearing dentures 24/7 can increase your risk for both oral and general diseases. Constant denture wear can cause greater accumulations of dental plaque, a thin biofilm responsible for gum disease and inflammation. The increase in bacteria could also make you more susceptible to pneumonia and other diseases.
Wearing your dentures non-stop can also worsen bone loss, a common problem associated with dentures. Normally, the biting forces generated when we chew stimulate bone growth in the jaw. A person loses much of this stimulation when they lose teeth, resulting in gradual bone loss.
Dentures can't replace this lost stimulation, and the pressure they exert on the jaw's bony ridges they rest upon can accelerate the process of bone loss. In time, any bone loss could affect the denture's fit as the bone beneath them gradually shrinks. By taking them out at night, you can help slow the pace of bone loss.
In addition to giving them and your mouth a rest at night, be sure you're also keeping your dentures clean: Take them out and rinse them off after meals and brush them with a small amount of antibacterial soap (not toothpaste) at least once a day. And don't forget to brush your gums and tongue every day with a soft toothbrush (different from your denture brush) to further reduce dental plaque.
If you would like more information on denture care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sleeping in Dentures.”
Ashley Graham has a beautiful and valuable smile—an important asset to her bustling career as a plus-size model and television host. But she recently revealed on Instagram a “confrontation” between one of her teeth and a frozen oatmeal cookie. The cookie won.
Holding her hand over her mouth during the video until the last moment, Graham explained how she sneaked a cookie from her mom's freezer and took a bite of the frozen treat. Taking her hand from her mouth, she revealed her broken tooth.
Okay, maybe it wasn't an actual tooth that was broken: the denticle in question appeared to have been previously altered to accommodate a porcelain veneer or crown. But whatever was once there wasn't there anymore.
Although her smile was restored without too much fuss, Graham's experience is still a cautionary tale for anyone with dental work (and kudos to her for being a good sport and sharing it). Although dental work in general is quite durable, it is not immune to damage. Biting down on something hard, even as delicious as one of mom's frozen oatmeal cookies, could run you the risk of popping off a veneer or loosening a crown.
To paraphrase an old saying: Take care of your dental work, and it will take care of you. Don't use your teeth in ways that put your dental work at risk, tempting as it may be given your mouth's mechanical capabilities.
Even so, it's unwise—both for dental work and for natural teeth—to use your teeth and jaws for tasks like cracking nuts or prying open containers. You should also avoid biting into foods or substances with hard textures like ice or a rock-hard cookie from the freezer, especially if you have veneers or other cosmetic improvements.
It's equally important to clean your mouth daily, and undergo professional cleanings at least twice a year. That might not seem so important at first since disease-causing organisms won't infect your dental work's nonliving materials. But infection can wreak havoc on natural tissues like gums, remaining teeth or underlying bone that together often support dental enhancements. Losing that support could lead to losing your dental work.
And it's always a good idea to have dental work, particularly dentures, checked regularly. Conditions in the mouth can change, sometimes without you noticing them, so periodic examinations by a trained dental provider could prevent or treat a problem before it adversely affects your dental work.
We're glad Ashley Graham's trademark smile wasn't permanently harmed by that frozen cookie, and yours probably wouldn't be either in a similar situation. But don't take any chances, and follow these common sense tips for protecting your dental work.
If you would like more information on care and maintenance of cosmetic dental work, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty as Never Before” and “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
The timing around losing a tooth may not always sync with your financial ability. It's not unusual for people to postpone getting a dental implant—by far the best option for replacing a missing tooth—because of its expense.
So, if you have to postpone dental implants until you can afford them, what do you do in the meantime to keep your smile intact? One affordable option is a temporary restoration known as a flexible removable partial denture (RPD).
Composed of a kind of nylon developed in the 1950s, flexible RPDs are made by first heating the nylon and injecting its softened form into a custom mold. This creates a gum-colored denture base to which prosthetic (false) teeth are affixed at the exact locations for missing teeth.
Differing from a permanent RPD made with rigid acrylic plastic, a nylon-based RPD is flexible and lightweight, making them comfortable to wear. They're kept in place with small nylon extensions that fit into the natural concave spaces of teeth. And, with a bit of custom crafting, they can look quite realistic.
RPDs are helpful in another way, especially if you're waiting for an implant down the road: They help preserve the missing tooth space. Without a prosthetic tooth occupying that space, neighboring teeth can drift in. You might then need orthodontic treatment to move errant teeth to where they should be before obtaining a permanent restoration.
Flexible RPDs may not be as durable as acrylic RPDs, and can be difficult to repair or reline if needed to adjust the fit. Though they may not stain as readily as acrylic dentures, you'll still need to clean them regularly to help them keep looking their best. This also aids in protecting the rest of your mouth from dental disease by removing any buildup of harmful bacterial plaque on the RPD.
But even with these limitations, patients choose RPDs for the simple fact that they're affordable and temporary. And the latter is their greatest benefit—providing you a “bridge” between losing a tooth and replacing it with a durable dental implant.
If you would like more information on tooth replacement options, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Flexible Partial Dentures.”
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