It’s February and time for a little heart love. And not just the Valentine’s Day kind: February is also American Heart Month, when healthcare providers promote cardiovascular health. That includes dentists, because cardiovascular health goes hand in hand with dental health.
It just so happens that February is Gum Disease Awareness Month too. If that’s a coincidence, it’s an appropriate one: Although different in nature and health impact, heart disease and gum disease are linked by a common thread: chronic inflammation.
Inflammation (or tissue swelling) in and of itself is beneficial and often necessary. When cells in the body are injured or become diseased, the immune system isolates them from healthier cells through inflammation for the protection of the latter. Once the body heals, inflammation normally subsides.
But conditions surrounding both heart disease and gum disease often prevent a decrease in inflammation. With heart disease, for example, fatty deposits called plaque accumulate within blood vessels, impeding blood flow and triggering inflammation.
A different kind of plaque plays a pivotal role with gum disease. Dental plaque is a thin biofilm that builds up on tooth surfaces. It’s home to bacteria that can infect the gums, which in turn elicits an inflammatory response within those affected tissues. Unless treated, the infection will continue to grow worse, as will the inflammation.
The bad news is that these two sources of chronic inflammation are unlikely to stay isolated. Some recent studies indicate that cardiovascular inflammation worsens gum inflammation, and vice-versa, in patients with both conditions.
The good news, though, is that treating and managing inflammation related to either condition appears to benefit the other. Patients with cardiovascular disease can often reduce their inflammation with medical treatment and medications, exercise and a heart-friendly diet.
You can also ease gum disease inflammation by undergoing dental plaque removal treatment at the first signs of an infection. And, the sooner the better: Make a dental appointment as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
You can lower your gum disease risk by brushing and flossing daily to remove accumulated plaque, and visiting us at least twice a year for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups. If you’ve already experienced gum disease, you may need more frequent visits depending on your gum health.
So this February, while you’re showing your special someone how much you care, show a little love to both your heart and your gums. Your health—general and oral—will appreciate it.
If you would like more information about gum health, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
Here’s the bad news about periodontal (gum) disease: It’s a leading cause for tooth loss. Even worse: Half of adults over 30 will have some form of it during their lifetime.
But here’s the good news: If caught early, we can often treat and stop gum disease before it can do substantial harm to your mouth. And the best news of all—you may be able to avoid a gum infection altogether by adopting a few healthy habits.
Here are 4 habits you can practice to prevent a gum infection from happening.
Practice daily brushing and flossing. Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often arising from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing will reduce your chances of a gum infection. And be sure it’s daily—missing just a few days is enough for gum inflammation to get started.
Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Even the most diligent personal hygiene can miss plaque, which may then harden into a calcified form impossible to remove with brushing and flossing called calculus (tartar). At least twice-a-year professional dental cleanings will clear away any remnant plaque and tartar, which can greatly reduce your risk for dental disease.
Make gum-friendly lifestyle changes. Smoking more than doubles your chances of gum disease. Likewise, a sugar-heavy diet, which feeds disease-causing bacteria, also makes you more susceptible to infection. Quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and following a dental-friendly diet could boost your teeth and gum health and avoid infection.
Watch for signs of infection. Although you can greatly reduce your risk of gum disease, you can’t always bring that risk to zero. So, be aware of the signs of gum disease: sometimes painful, swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these signs, make a dental appointment—the sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the less likely gum disease will ruin your dental health.
When a woman learns she's pregnant, her first thought is often to do everything possible to protect the new life inside her. That may mean making lifestyle changes like avoiding alcohol or quitting smoking.
Some women may also become concerned that their regular dental visits could pose a risk to their baby. But both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Dental Association say it's safe for pregnant women to undergo dental exams and cleanings—in fact, they're particularly important during pregnancy.
That's because pregnant women are more susceptible to dental infections, particularly periodontal (gum) disease, because of hormonal changes during pregnancy. The most common, occurring in about 40% of expectant mothers, is a form of gum disease known as pregnancy gingivitis. Women usually encounter this infection that leaves the gums tender, swollen and easy to bleed between the second and eighth month of pregnancy.
Untreated, pregnancy gingivitis could potentially advance below the gum line and infect the roots. It could also have an unhealthy effect on the baby: some studies show women with severe gum disease are more prone to give birth to premature or underweight babies than women with healthy gums.
But it can be stopped effectively, especially if it's treated early. Regular dental checkups and cleanings (at least every six months or more frequently if your dentist recommends) can help an expectant mother stay ahead of a developing gum infection.
With that said, though, your dentist's approach to your care may change somewhat during pregnancy. While there's little concern over essential procedures like gum disease treatment or root canal therapy, elective restorations that are cosmetic in nature might best be postponed until after the baby's birth.
So, if you've just found out you're pregnant, let your dentist know so they can adjust your care depending on your condition and history. And don't be concerned about keeping up your regular dental visits—it's a great thing to do for both you and your baby.
If you would like more information on dental care during pregnancy, 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 “Dental Care During Pregnancy: Maintaining Good Oral Hygiene Is More Important Than Ever.”
Say “bacteria,” especially in the same sentence with “disease” or “infection,” and you may trigger an immediate stampede for the hand sanitizer. The last thing most people want is to come in contact with these “menacing” microorganisms.
If that describes you, however, you’re too late. If you’re of adult age, there are already 100 trillion of these single-celled organisms in and on your body, outnumbering your own cells 10 to 1. But don’t panic: Of these 10,000-plus species only a handful can cause you harm—most are either harmless or beneficial, including in your mouth.
Thanks to recent research, we know quite a bit about the different kinds of bacteria in the mouth and what they’re doing. We’ve also learned that the mouth’s microbiome (the interactive environment of microscopic organisms in a particular location) develops over time, especially during our formative years. New mothers, for example, pass on hundreds of beneficial species of bacteria to their babies via their breast milk.
As our exposure to different bacteria grows, our immune system is also developing—not only fighting bacteria that pose a threat, but also learning to recognize benevolent species. All these factors over time result in a sophisticated, interrelated bacterial environment unique to every individual.
Of course, it isn’t all sweetness and light in this microscopic world. The few harmful oral bacteria, especially those that trigger tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, can cause enormous, irreparable damage to the teeth and gums. It’s our goal as dentists to treat these diseases and, when necessary, fight against harmful microorganisms with antibacterial agents and antibiotics.
But our growing knowledge of this “secret world” of bacteria is now influencing how we approach dental treatment. A generalized application of antibiotics, for example, could harm beneficial bacteria as well as harmful ones. In trying to do good we may run the risk of disrupting the mouth’s microbiome balance—with adverse results on a patient’s long-term oral health.
The treatment strategies of the future will take this into account. While stopping dental disease will remain the top priority, the treatments of the future will seek to do it without harming the delicate balance of the mouth’s microbiome.
If you would like more information on the role of bacteria in oral health, 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 “New Research Show Bacteria Essential to Health.”
With summer vacation season in full swing, you and your family might be planning a trip away from home, maybe even far from home. If you’re vacationing out of the country, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible—including protecting your dental health.
Dental problems are difficult enough in the familiar surroundings of home, but even more so in a foreign locale. However, with a little preparation and planning, you can keep your exotic dream vacation from becoming a dental nightmare.
Here’s what you can do to avoid or minimize an unpleasant situation with your teeth and gums while on vacation abroad.
Take care of any dental problems before you leave. If you know or suspect you already have a problem with your teeth or gums, it’s better to have it corrected if at all possible before your trip. So, make an appointment to see your dentist if you notice things like a toothache or tooth sensitivity, unusual spotting on your teeth, or swollen or bleeding gums.
You should also have sinus problems like pain or congestion checked too, since these may actually involve your teeth and gums. If at all possible, undergo recommended procedures like gum disease treatment or root canals pre-trip—just be sure you allow adequate time for recuperation before your departure date.
Know who to contact in a dental emergency. Even with the best of planning, you should also prepare for the possibility of a dental injury or emergency while you’re on your vacation. So be sure you pack along with your other travel documents the names and contact information of individuals or organizations near your vacation destination that might be of assistance in a dental emergency. These might include hotel concierges, military personnel or other English speakers living in the area, or the nearest embassy or consulate.
In addition, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers and the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention are online resources that can help you with your trip planning and give you medical and dental information specific to your destination.
A vacation trip to a foreign land can be a unique and fulfilling experience. Just be sure a dental problem or emergency doesn’t spoil the moment—be prepared. If you need to take care of any dental issues before you go on vacation, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental & Medical Tourism” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”