By Pure Matters
Meet the newest weapons in the fight to prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes: a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. Used daily, these mild-mannered dental care tools not only keep your smile sparkling, but they can also help prevent gum disease, which researchers now say is associated with higher risk for chronic and even deadly health conditions.
Think you don't have to worry? You may want to reconsider. When researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checked up on the oral health of 454 Americans age 35 and older, they discovered that gum disease was 50 percent more common than previously estimated. Experts used to think about 11 percent of people had periodontal disease; the new findings would increase the rate to 16.5 percent -- about 1 in 6 Americans.
Your Gums, Your Health
Periodontal (gum) disease develops when plaque -- a sticky mix of bacteria, saliva, and tiny bits of food -- builds up between your teeth and begins to harden. Your gums become infected and may be sore or even bleed. Untreated, gum disease can even lead to tooth loss.
But that's not all. There's new evidence that gum disease is associated with increased risk for high blood pressure and other serious health problems. Advanced gum disease heightened risk for diabetes by 50 to 100 percent in one study. And in another, preventing it protected hearts and brains: Women who had seen a dentist in the previous two years were one third less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, chest pain, or congestive heart failure. The link seems to be inflammation, which increases the risk for a buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls. Inflammation may also interfere with the ability of your cells to absorb blood sugar.
Healthy Mouth Tips
Ready to give your gums the attention they deserve? Here's your plan.
Quit smoking. Smokers are three times more likely to develop gum disease as nonsmokers.
Brush twice a day—or even more often. Use short, gentle strokes to clean the front, back, and chewing surfaces of all your pearly whites. People who didn't brush their teeth regularly were 70 percent more likely to develop heart disease, indicates one large, Scottish study.
Floss daily. Slide it gently down between your teeth and then below the gum line. Rub it up and down against your tooth to remove plaque. Can't floss? Ask your dentist about other interdental devices such as special brushes, picks, or sticks.
For more protection, use an antimicrobial toothpaste and mouth rinse. According to the American Dental Association, these products can reduce risk for gum disease by taking aim at the bacteria that cause it.
Watch for signs of gum disease. See your dentist if you have ongoing swollen, red, or bleeding gums, tooth sensitivity, and/or bad breath. Gums that are pulling away from your teeth, loose teeth, and a change in the way your teeth meet when you bite may also be warning signs.
See your dentist twice a year. Go even if your teeth are healthy -- or if you wear dentures. (You can still develop gum disease.) Your dentist can spot early signs of gum disease and begin treatment, if necessary. And remember, that matters for health beyond your mouth.