By John White, MD
When was the last time you went to the dentist? Last month? Six months ago? A year? Why is a physician asking me when I last went to the dentist?
It turns out that having healthy teeth is important for more than just your smile. It’s good for your overall health, good for your new baby, and it just might save you money in the long run.
Periodontal Disease Linked to Other Diseases
Did you know that patients with periodontal disease (unhealthy teeth and gums) are twice as likely to develop diabetes? And that poorly controlled diabetes is associated with worsening dental disease? Which, of course worsens your blood sugars, which worsens your gums… like a snowball rolling down a hill. Studies have shown that by having your periodontal disease treated by a dentist, you can improve your diabetic control by up to 20%!
Periodontal disease is also associated with heart attacks and strokes. A definite relationship between your teeth and gums and your cardiovascular system isn’t yet proven. We do know that dental disease causes chronic inflammation, and inflammation is implicated in both heart attacks and strokes. However, unlike with diabetes, treatment of periodontal disease has not yet been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk; studies are ongoing.
Maybe you don’t think you can see the dentist because you are pregnant. Only 1 out of 3 pregnant women visit the dentist during their pregnancy. You might not know this, but bacteria in your mouth cause most cavities. The main bacteria (strep mutans) that causes problems is transmitted from mother to child by pre-tasting food, kissing and other close contact. The more bacteria in mom’s mouth, the more likely the child will acquire the bacteria. Studies have shown that if you can delay the buildup of strep mutans until after your child is 2 years old, your child will have fewer cavities. Fathers and other family members can also pass on the bacteria, but that is less common. Also, most antibiotics used for dental diseases are appropriate to use during pregnancy. So are many of the numbing agents and pain medications used.
Reasons People Delay Going to the Dentist
Cost is a concern for everybody. One of the reasons you may not have gone to the dentist is the expense. Maybe you don’t have dental insurance, or maybe you just don’t have the money to see the dentist. United Concordia (a large dental insurance group) published a study in June 2014, that showed that patients who had their gum disease treated had significant annual medical cost savings, as much as $5,681 less. They also had up to 39% fewer hospitalizations.
There are other reasons besides cost that keep people from going to the dentist. Are you on blood thinners and are afraid that you will bleed too much from dental work? Routine cleanings, fillings and simple extractions can be performed without stopping your blood thinning medication. Just be sure you tell your dentist or dental hygienist that you are on the medication.
Besides keeping your teeth and gums clean and healthy, there are other reasons to get a regular check-up. Many common medications can cause problems with your teeth and gums. Medications like prednisone can cause thrush. Some seizure and blood pressure medications can cause gum abnormalities. Many medications can cause chronic dry mouth, which leads to cavities and gum disease. Your dentist is trained to recognize early signs of oral cancer.
As you can see, having regular dental checkups is important for several reasons. By working with your dentist and your doctor, you have the best chance of living a longer, healthier and happier life.
The University of Tennessee
Family Medicine Center
294 Summar Drive, Jackson, TN 38301