Each year, many of the 14.75 million people worldwide who die of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease might be saved by a dentist. Yes, you read that correctly. Nearly 85% of the adult population has periodontal disease, a condition that is becoming widely accepted as a contributing factor to these life-threatening conditions.
Baby Boomers are now entering the time in their lives in which cardiovascular disease and diabetes become a mounting concern. Obviously, everyone wants to minimize his or her risk for these conditions in order to live a longer, healthier life. Many Boomers take extra care to eat right, stay active, and see their primary care physician regularly to maintain optimum health, but few realize the impact semiannual visits to a dentist can have on a person’s risk for life-threatening disease.
Studies have shown that if you have gum disease, you are twice as likely to die of a heart attack, and three times as likely to die of a stroke. These aren’t just falsely correlated facts and figures dentists are using to drum up more business. Research presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting showed that getting as little as two cleanings per year reduces your risk for heart attack by 25%.
The primary way in which gum disease leads to conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is inflammation, and if you think about it, it makes sense: Gum disease is an inflammatory disease, and if your gums bleed when brushing, flossing, and/or eating (a sign of gum disease), the bacteria from your mouth finds its way into your blood stream. It then travels to your heart, brain, and throughout your body, causing inflammation and tampering with your immune system. This chain of events—which begins with a simple lack of good oral hygiene—can cause you to have a considerably higher risk of death from some of the most common lethal health conditions in America.
And it’s not just your health it’s affecting. In this world of rising healthcare costs, preventative medicine and dentistry can dramatically reduce the amount you spend on medication, diagnostic testing, and medical procedures.
So what are the steps you need to take for a healthier mouth and, by extension, a healthier you?
Step One: Brush and floss twice a day
Your dentist has been telling you for years that you should brush and floss at least twice a day, but if you’re like 97% of Americans, you don’t do it. Quick question: WHY NOT? This isn’t some plot by Big Brother to take over your morning and nighttime rituals—your dentist is trying to save your life. Brushing and flossing regularly is the first step to combating gum disease, which, as you now know, can be a key player in the development of heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health conditions.
Step Two: See a dentist who knows his stuff
Any dentist can clean your teeth, fix most structural or cosmetic problems, and treat gum disease, but dentists who truly understand oral systemic health have simple, painless, and affordable ways to significantly reduce your risk for chronic disease. These tests, which range from salivary diagnostics to genetic testing, can determine how at risk you are for systemic disease and even detect it if you already have it.
Step Three: Nourish your body with the right foods
Eating right doesn’t just keep your waistline trim and your energy levels high—it also can help prevent gum disease. Eating a “colorful” variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains helps your whole body run at peak performance. Dental super foods like onions, mint, and green tea have been shown to promote good oral health, as have foods high in Vitamin C and Calcium. Along the same lines, limiting simple sugars like those found in candy and soda helps to prevent tooth decay—not to mention love handles.
Years ago, the mouth somehow became separated from overall health; however, physicians and dentists worldwide are coming to terms with a simple truth: Oral health is not only an important player in the fight against systemic disease—it is the key to overall health.
So the next time you’re thinking about putting off your next trip to the dentist or skipping the floss at bedtime, think about your overall health. Think about a future with fewer health problems and how nice it would be to see your grandchildren grow up. Then do yourself a favor, and start making your oral health a priority in your life.