Oral Systemic Dentistry
A common dental disorder found in millions of Americans can lead to heart attacks and strokes. That disorder is periodontal disease, which is due to certain high-risk oral bacteria as a contributing cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading killer of men and women globally. It showed that poor oral health is not just a “risk factor” for heart problems and early death, but actually a direct cause.
Landmark Study Discovers and Makes Recommendations About a New, Treatable, Oral Cause of Heart Disease, Heart Attack, and Stroke
PD has no symptoms and is completely pain-free in the early stages. It’s easy for your dentist to diagnose, but can be very difficult for you to detect. As a result, millions of people don’t even realize they have a serious oral infection that can lead to rampant tooth loss if untreated. In fact, over 80% of all teeth lost in the U.S. are due to untreated gum disease. And, as we now know, this common dental condition has been shown to directly cause heart disease.
Oral warning signs your dentist will look for include red, swollen, or tender gums which bleed easily, receding gums, loose or sensitive teeth, teeth which have shifted, changes on your X-ray images, “pockets” where your gums meet your teeth, and persistent bad breath. Notice that “pain” is absent from this list. This is why I often refer to PD as the “silent killer” of teeth…and maybe of you, too.
If you already have heart disease, you should be checked for the high-risk oral bacteria discussed in the BMJ study. For this, your dentist will use the recommended OralDNA saliva test. This simple test has been shown to be very valuable and helpful in reducing heart disease and your risk of heart attack and stroke, even if you don’t have any obvious signs of PD. One of the amazing new insights offered by this study is that some common oral bacteria can cause heart damage even without full-blown PD.
We do not yet have a cure for PD, and there is currently no single treatment proven to be 100% effective in eradicating your high-risk oral bacteria. However, we can almost always significantly reduce the oral infection and maintain that lower level for a lifetime.
Today’s treatments for PD are more predictable and more comfortable than ever. They include deep cleanings, a daily program of oral care to follow at home, prescription mouthwashes, dental trays with antibacterial gel, dental lasers, and oral antibiotics.
Regardless of which treatments are prescribed, the “Bale Doneen Method” published in this (and many other) studies recommends repeating the OralDNA test afterwards to see how well your body responded and how well the treatment worked. A follow-up OralDNA study can help to monitor progress and also guide further treatment decisions.
If you smoke, here’s yet another reason to kick the habit: it’s a leading risk factor for developing gum disease. Poorly controlled diabetes is also a big predictor of PD. Dry mouth (a common condition in Baby Boomers and Seniors) is also a major risk factor. And, obviously, poor oral hygiene and irregular dental visits top the list of risk factors for poor oral health and bad breath.
Brush and floss (at least) twice a day for (at least) two minutes. If you aren’t sure how to brush and floss correctly, just ask your dental hygienist for a quick explanation and demonstration.
You may have seen recent headlines claiming there’s not much science to support flossing. These stories were incomplete and often taken out of context. Consider this: in a nine-year study of 5,611 older adults, people who never flossed had a 30% higher death rate than those who flossed daily! Their teeth, gums, and breath were obviously worse, too. It only make sense that cleaning each tooth entirely (not just the half you can reach with a toothbrush) is important.
Go to bed with a clean mouth. This study found that not brushing at night raised mortality risk by 25%, compared to nightly brushing. Since your mouth produces less saliva to wash your teeth/gums and dilute acids when you’re sleeping, it’s particularly crucial to floss and brush thoroughly before bed.
Get a dental cleaning every three months. Science has repeatedly shown that oral bacteria and dental plaque are most aggressive starting at 90 days, so get your teeth cleaned more often than the customary “twice a year.” Especially as you get older, you should see your dental team more often. Follow the science and you’ll stay healthier.