Brusha brusha: Healthy teeth mean healthy heart

Austin Powers has the worst teeth. Mike Myers plays this shaggy English spy who is somehow a lady’s man. I don’t know why anyone would kiss someone with such bad teeth. I’d fear getting a yeast infection or something worse.

Are teeth that important?

Besides the cosmetic aspect of teeth, dental health is important to a person’s overall well-being. Dental caries (cavaties) are the most common infectious disease, more so than the common cold. Ninety percent of adults have had at least one tooth cavity.

Forty-two percent of school-aged kids have dental caries. About eight percent of adults 20-64 years of age have periodontal disease. Knock on wood (or enamel), I haven’t had a cavity in a couple of decades because I really stepped up my brushing and flossing.

Listen to this! A study in Taiwan showed at least one dental cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist in a person’s lifetime reduced the risk of a heart attack by 24 percent, and the risk of a stroke by 13 percent versus those who never had a dental cleaning.

On November 13, 2011, participants at the American Heart Association’s annual conference reported on dental health and cardiovascular events. Research suggested that frequent dental cleanings reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. So not only do dental cleanings stave off ugly plaque and gum disease, but they might help people live healthier lives overall.

We don’t know why bad teeth/gums are linked to heart disease and strokes. Perhaps the bacteria in the mouth get into the bloodstream to cause havoc in the arteries– forming plaque that can prevent blood flow to the heart muscle and/or brain. Another thought is the bacteria in the mouth trigger the immune system to cause inflammation in the arteries.

I always encourage my patients to see a dentist every six months, but I would say at least 10 percent will not go, most for financial reasons. Dental work can seem very expensive, especially if teeth need to be pulled and replaced. Others fear the dentist (so I often prescribe a sedative).

Nonetheless, I still ask my patients to at least get their teeth cleaned. If someone has heart valve problems, HIV, diabetes, or other significant medical problems, I insist on dental cleanings.

When I worked part-time in an ER in Richmond, I saw many patients with facial abscesses or severe jawbone infections from poor dentition. Patients holding cold compresses on the side of their face to soothe a throbbing tooth infection made the ER waiting room look like a bar brawl had occurred.

Pneumonia can occur when a person aspirates (inhales) bacteria from the mouth. Folks with an empyema (pus inside the chest wall) almost always have Austin Powers-style teeth.

Often, I can tell a person has bad teeth by just the smell of the anaerobic bacteria that have a Club Med party of a time within the diseased gums and teeth. An abscess can develop in the maxillary sinuses above the upper molars, and it usually requires surgery.

Initial dentist visits are recommended at the tender age of 12-18 months. As a part of teaching children hygiene, parents should supervise tooth brushing at least until the child is five to six years of age. My high school chemistry teacher flossed twice a day and got me started on flossing because she lost almost all her teeth. (Her smoking didn’t help matters, since tobacco is hard on the gums.)

Smile, and the world smiles with you. I should know. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on my teeth (braces, gum graft, whitening, bonding). Where is the Tooth Fairy when you need her? (Info:
Dr. Hook cracks a joke or two, but he’s a respected physician with an interesting website, Email him with your questions!

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