Posts for: February, 2019
At this time of year, hearts are everywhere you look, so it's fitting that February is American Heart Month, a time to focus on cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the number one cause of death around the world. But did you know that there's a link between the health of your heart and the health of your mouth?
People with advanced gum disease have a higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event, but what is the connection? For one, oral bacteria found in gum disease can enter the bloodstream, where it has been found in artery-clogging plaque. In addition, untreated gum disease has been determined to worsen high blood pressure, a major contributor to heart attack, stroke and heart failure. One study reported that when gum disease was treated, high blood pressure fell by up to 13 points. But perhaps the most significant common denominator between gum disease and heart disease is inflammation, according to many researchers.
Gum disease is the most common inflammatory disease, affecting nearly 50% of US adults over 30, and 70% of those aged 65 and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The body's inflammation response is a key weapon in fighting infection. However, when there is chronic low-level inflammation such as occurs with untreated periodontal (gum) disease, many adverse health effects can result. In one Harvard University study, chronic inflammation was found to triple the risk of heart attack and double the risk of stroke.
The relationship between gum disease and heart disease is still not completely understood, but there's no denying that a connection exists between the two, so it's worth doing what you can to take care of both your gums and your cardiovascular health. Here are some tips:
- Eat a heart-healthy—and gum-healthy—diet. A diet low in refined carbohydrates, high in fiber, vitamins C and D, antioxidants and Omega-3s has been shown to lower inflammation, benefitting your gums and your heart.
- Quit smoking. Using tobacco in any form is a risk factor for developing both gum disease and heart disease.
- Take care of your oral health. Gum disease can often be prevented—and reversed if caught early—simply with good oral hygiene, so be diligent about brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day.
- Come in for regular cleanings and checkups. Regular cleanings can help keep your gums healthy, and an examination can determine if you have gum disease. Be sure to tell us about any medical conditions or medications.
As you think about what you can do to take care of your heart health and overall health, don't forget your gums. If you have questions about how to improve your oral health, call us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Good Oral Health Leads to Better Health Overall” and “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
Among the “to-do” items on your pre-dive checklist like “Pack wetsuit” or “Fill scuba tanks,” be sure to add one other: “Check my dental health status.”
While that may seem like an odd concern, the changes in atmospheric pressure you encounter while diving (or flying, for that matter) could amplify oral sensitivity and intensify pain if you have pre-existing teeth or jaw problems.
The reason for this is the effect of basic physics on the body. All anatomical structures, including organs, bones and muscles, equalize external pressures the body encounters. We don’t notice this at normal atmospheric pressure, but when we encounter an extreme — either lower pressure during air flight or higher pressure during a scuba dive — we may feel the effects of the pressure on any structure with a rigid-walled surface filled with either air or fluid. These structures can’t equalize the pressure as fast as other areas, resulting in pain or discomfort. This is known medically as “barotrauma,” or more commonly as a “squeeze.”
One structure in particular could have an effect on your upper teeth and jaws: the sinus cavities of the skull, particularly the maxillary sinuses just below the eyes. Their lower walls are right next to the back teeth of the upper jaw and, more importantly, share the same nerve pathways. It’s quite possible, then, for pain from one area to be felt in the other, commonly known as “referred pain.” A toothache could then be felt in the sinus region, and vice-versa.
During a squeeze, then, pain levels from existing problems in the teeth and jaws that were previously tolerable (or even unnoticed) may well become amplified as the pressure from the sinus cavity impinges upon the jaw. That dull toothache you’ve been having may suddenly become excruciating at 30,000 feet — or 30 meters under the surface.
That’s why it’s important to see us if you’ve experienced any signs of tooth decay, gum disease or TMD, including pain, before your next dive or air flight. And, if you encounter any significant pain while flying or diving, be sure you consult with us as soon as possible when you return. Taking action now could help you avoid a miserable, and potentially dangerous, flying or diving experience in the future.
If you would like more information on pressure changes and dental 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 “Pressure Changes can Cause Tooth and Sinus Pain.”
For best results in cleaning your teeth of disease-causing plaque you need both the power of brushing open teeth surfaces and flossing in between them. But you may be wondering: should you perform one task before the other?
In general terms, no—there’s no solid evidence that flossing is better before brushing, or vice-versa. But that being said we do recognize each way has its own advantages.
If you floss before brushing, it’s possible you could loosen plaque that can then be easily brushed away when you perform your second hygiene task. Flossing first can also reveal areas that need a bit more attention from brushing if you suddenly encounter heavy particle debris or you notice a little bit of blood on the floss. And, by flossing first you may be able to clear away plaque from your tooth enamel so that it can more readily absorb the fluoride in toothpaste.
One last thing about flossing first: if it’s your least favorite task of the two and you’re of the “Do the Unpleasant Thing First” philosophy, you may want to perform it before brushing. You’re less likely to skip it if you’ve already brushed.
On the other hand, flossing first could get you into the middle of a lot sticky plaque that can gum up your floss. Brushing first removes a good portion of plaque, which can then make flossing a little easier. With the bulk of the plaque gone by the time you floss, you’ll not only avoid a sticky mess on your floss you’ll also have less chance of simply moving the plaque around with the floss if there’s a large mass of it present.
It really comes down to which way you prefer. So, brush first, floss last or vice-versa—but do perform both tasks. The one-two punch of these important hygiene habits will greatly increase your chances for maintaining a healthy mouth.