Smile! We all associate a bright smile with lovely white teeth, a sign of good health. Often, we don’t think much about oral health outside of our 2 minutes (maybe) twice a day tooth scrub and flossing, when we remember to do it. But, your entire oral cavity, teeth, gums, throat, tongue, salivary glands, and the bones that support the mouth are all in the game. A healthy mouth protects you, and an unhealthy one can cause you a lot of problems.
Healthy teeth start with healthy gums. And if a person’s gums bleed easily or are very sensitive, it could be an indication of periodontal disease, which is also known as gingivitis.
Periodontal disease or gingivitis occurs when there is inflammation and infection present in the gums. It may even extend to the bone and tissue support systems surrounding the teeth. In the early stages it is called gingivitis and usually begins at the base of the teeth. Left untreated, the inflammation can advance to a stage known as periodontitis.
When you have your teeth cleaned, what’s being removed is plaque, a white sticky biofilm that hardens as it remains on the teeth. This plaque biofilm breeds bacteria, which in turn produces toxins, stimulating your body to fight against it with even more inflammation and enzymes which further break down the healthy gum tissue that holds your teeth in place. You may be surprised to learn that gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults.
Women Have Extra Issues
Women who do not get regular dental care and women who smoke are more likely to have periodontitis. Hormonal ups and downs during menstruation can cause extra gum sensitivity and swelling, and pregnancy brings an even higher risk of gum disease, making any existing cases worse. Pregnant women with gingivitis or periodontal disease are at greater risk for premature labor, as any dental infections can serve as a bacterial reservoir, and that bacteria can travel through the placenta causing fetal toxicity resulting in preterm delivery and low-birth-weight babies.
Lower estrogen levels after menopause can also affect your oral health. As we know, we do get drier (everywhere!) post-menopause, and the mouth is no exception. As the amount of saliva lessons, a drier mouth is more open to sores, sensitive gums, cavities, ulcers, infections, and tooth decay. Recent American Dental Association studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can reduce tooth decay by increasing saliva, washing away food particles, and neutralizing acids caused by bacteria. Also, post-menopause, as estrogen levels drop, we are subject to thinning bones and osteoporosis. This includes the bones of the mouth and jaw, where even small amounts of bone loss can endanger your teeth. How would you know if you’re suffering from bone loss in your mouth? Look for signs of receding gums and do see your dentist for regular check-ups.
The Heart Connection
Though the American Heart Association has not concluded that poor oral health is a definite cause of heart disease there is a correlation: Dental disease is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. The pathway is similar to that of fetal infection. Bacteria or sepsis in the mouth can travel through the bloodstream to the heart where it may compromise the valves of the heart.
So, there are many ways what’s going on in our mouths can affect our overall health. Dental healthcare insurance should be a part of our overall healthcare insurance and Medicare. But it is often an expensive extra that many can’t afford, and so trips to the dentist are put off until painful problems arise.
I’m hoping that you can find the time and the resources to access regular dental care. If the cost seems too high do check for low cost clinics in your area. When it comes to a beautiful smile, a little bit of prevention from regular brushing, flossing and trips to the dentist, can save more money in the long run.