ILLUSTRATION BY GREEDY HEN
The condition of your teeth adds up to so much more than an attractive smile. A perfectly straight set of pearly whites means nothing if untreated health conditions lurk underneath. Your oral health offers clues about your overall health, and problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body.
The fact that bacteria is a constant in your mouth should come as no surprise. After all, the mouth is the entry point to the digestive and respiratory tracts. While it’s true some bacteria can cause disease, most bacteria is harmless. Your body’s natural defenses and good oral hygiene — such as daily brushing and flossing — help keep bacteria under control. Regular dental checkups and cleanings are also necessary to maintain good oral health.
Without proper care, however, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease. Studies suggest the inflammation associated with a severe form of gum disease known as periodontitis increases the risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). The latter involves plaque or fatty deposits that build up in a body’s arteries and can potentially cause a person to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
“We always check a patient’s medical history during their first visit,” says Dr. Cris Durghinescu, who heads up Desert Dental Arts in Palm Desert. “We want to see if they’re diabetic or have a history of cardiac disease or if it runs in their family.” Gum disease appears to occur more frequently and with greater severity among people who have diabetes.
Oftentimes experiencing acute pain is the only thing that will cause some people to seek out a dentist. Certainly, a cavity can be mended and a root canal performed, but periodontal disease is much more serious. “Unfortunately, periodontal disease doesn’t hurt, and people think they don’t need to address it,” Durghinescu says. “The worst thing you can do is ignore it.”
In addition to cardiovascular complications, studies indicate tooth decay and gum disease can impact respiratory health as well. Poor dental health can also increase the incidence of developing glaucoma and even result in adverse birth outcomes. The list continues to grow. “Periodontal disease is an inflammation in your gum, and inflammation is never a good thing,” Durghinescu says. You shouldn’t have any kind of inflammation in your body because everything is linked.