For heart health... see your dentist?
Sept./Oct. 2007 California Country magazine
By Art Allen
Today's dentists can often diagnose systemic diseases during a regular oral exam.
It's true. Today's dentists can often diagnose systemic diseases during a regular oral exam. But the theory that oral health is connected to our overall health is not new. Two centuries ago, Hippocrates had already made the association. Today, the Academy of General Dentistry has determined that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases produce oral signs and symptoms. We now see dental care professionals playing a key role in screening for conditions such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes, leukemia, osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases.
And there are, of course, the "oral-specific" conditions your dentist can detect during a comprehensive oral exam. Oral cancer is a growing problem—30,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year and nearly 8,000 die of the disease during a 12-month period.
Recently, the former head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes football team, Butch Davis, was diagnosed with cancer through a regularly scheduled dental exam. The 55-year-old coach said he wasn't even aware he had a growth when he saw his dentist for a routine cleaning. After the growth was removed, a biopsy diagnosed it as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was caught in time and he's doing well—thanks in part to his dentist.
And then there are your gums. More than 75 percent of Americans over 35 have some form of gum disease. Periodontal (gum) disease is one of the main causes of tooth loss, but research also links it to heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, pre-term pregnancies and diabetes. In fact, diabetes is not only a risk factor for periodontal disease, but periodontal disease may increase the severity.
Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that microorganisms living naturally in the human mouth can cause problems elsewhere in the body when "protective barriers in the mouth are breached." A recent article in the Los Angeles Times provides information that indicates gum disease may also be linked to Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis and may even increase the risk to people undergoing certain surgeries, including transplants. And researchers for the New England Journal of Medicine found that treating severe gum disease can improve the function of blood vessel walls, improving heart health.
What's it all mean? Those twice-yearly visits to the dentist you thought were just to check for cavities might someday save your life. It's more important than ever to see a dental care professional at least twice a year. And just like you have medical insurance, you should have a dental plan. Having coverage for preventive and diagnostic care will save on your out-of-pocket costs and, if you need more extensive restoration or perhaps periodontal care, dental insurance will help defray the costs. In addition, if you have a dental plan, you will be more inclined to visit your dentist more often—which will contribute to your healthy lifestyle.