“Don’t Forget To Floss”
As we age, the more at risk we become for a host of unwanted medical conditions like heart disease and stroke. There is a lot of information out there on prevention, but one less talked about connection that can help you avoid these illnesses and stay healthy is taking care of your teeth and gums. That’s right: while maintaining good oral health habits at any age is important, it’s especially true the older we are.
What is the connection between oral health and our overall health? Mostly it has to do with inflammation in the body. Case-control studies report that the concentration of the inflammation marker CRP (C-reactive protein) is significantly greater in individuals with gum disease compared to those without the disease. CRP is used to predict cardiovascular outcomes and risks.
Tooth decay and gum disease contributes to increased inflammation in the body, and happens because too much unhealthy bacteria are living in the mouth. And with an overload of unhealthy bacteria, it has to go someplace, and often times seeps into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, the plaque from our mouth attaches itself to the lining of the artery walls, cutting off circulation, stopping blood flow and brings on heart attacks and strokes.
In fact, studies have been done that looked at otherwise healthy individuals who were admitted to emergency rooms for heart attacks and stroke, and one very common similarity was noticed: bad oral health. Things like tooth decay, gingivitis and even periodontal disease. One study reported that clinical periodontitis increased the risk for fatal and nonfatal strokes slightly more than twofold.
As scary as all this sounds, there is good news. Most of these potentially deadly diseases can be prevented. In fact, I go as far as telling my patients that the best thing they can do for their health, besides lowering their cholesterol and getting enough physical activity, is to floss. Brushing alone isn’t enough. Brushing is great to get the teeth clean, but only flossing can get deep down in between teeth and remove the unhealthy bacteria and plaque that is building up and festering inside your mouth.
If you’re confused about flossing, here are some easy steps to become a pro in no time:
- Any floss is good floss: nylon, Teflon, woven, waxed or unwaxed, flavored or non-flavored. It doesn’t matter. Just floss at least once each day.
- Good technique requires forming a “C” shape with the floss around every tooth and rubbing it up and down. Make sure to reach the surface below the gum line, too.
- If you don’t floss on a regular basis, expect some bleeding. This is very normal and will subside when flossing becomes a regular habit. If there is heavy bleeding or it continues even after weeks of flossing, see your dentist right away.
- If you have difficulty flossing because of deep gum pockets, braces, bridges or implants, water jets will suck unattached bacteria right from your mouth and reduce the bacterial load and the inflammation it can cause.
- Be careful with mouth rinses. In fact, some that contain “antimicrobial” bacteria-killing additives that reduce gingivitis or plaque – or so they say – are dissolved in alcohol (27 percent ethanol) and long-term swishing of alcohol may increase your chances of oral cancer. Again, flossing is always the best bet.
In addition to seeing your dentist at least twice a year, starting healthy oral health habits at home is important at any age, but especially as we age. As we continue to bridge the gap between medicine and dentistry, we’re learning all the time that there is a definite connection to oral health and our overall health. Brushing, flossing and promoting good oral health habits is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Dr. Susan Maples is one of the top eight innovators in U.S. dentistry and is author of Blabber Mouth! 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You To Live a Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life. http://www.drsusanmaples.com/ and http://blabbermouthbooks.com/