2017-03-26 / Health

Put your money where your mouth is: Invest in your dental health

Edilia Marshall
Columnist

Our society places great emphasis on youth, beauty and big, pearly white teeth. As a reflection of this trend, fitness clubs boast over $80 billion in income, cosmetic sales top $56 billion, and nutritional supplements over $278 billion. Despite this financial investment in health and beauty, according to CDC statistics, nearly 40 percent of adults in the U.S. fail to see the dentist on a regular basis; over 27 percent of adults have untreated cavities; and over 47 percent of adults over the age of 30 have periodontal disease.

An attractive smile is an important social and professional asset, but dental care is not just about tooth whitening or tooth straightening. It restores the mouth to optimum health, thereby creating beautiful, natural looking smiles while also serving as a vital component of total body wellness. After all, it has been proven that untreated dental disease can affect a person’s overall health and well-being.

Excellent dental care is one of the best values available to the consumer today. Results last longer, look better and are more comfortable than they have ever been in the past.  Interestingly, an investment in high quality dental care can outlast your computer and possibly even your car!

Healthy teeth require healthy bone and gums to support them and hold them in place. This is referred to as “periodontal” health. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the gum and its supporting bone. The bacteria that is responsible for periodontal disease has been linked with pancreatic cancer, heart disease, stroke, low birth-weight babies and a rejection of artificial joints. Current research also shows that diabetics are more prone to cavities as well as periodontal disease. Moreover, diabetes cannot be adequately controlled in the presence of periodontal disease.

The bacteria associated with periodontal disease produces a toxin that soaks into the gum and bone, enters the blood stream and spreads throughout the body. A person’s immune system attempts to get rid of this toxin and, in the process, gets rid of the gum and bone while also causing other health problems. This infection can often be accompanied by bad breath and bleeding gums but may have no obvious symptoms.

Preventive dental care wards off problems, like periodontal disease, before they start and places the focus on early treatment so that expensive and inconvenient emergencies are avoided. If you have gum disease, it is important to act quickly before it gets out of hand to protect your health as well as your teeth.

How can you combat periodontal disease?

It used to be that the public, as well as the dental profession, thought that once people got periodontal disease, they were bound to lose their teeth sooner or later. It was felt that the best that could be done was to slow down the disease so that the teeth would be lost “later” rather than “sooner.” Recent research has shown, however, that when periodontal disease is discovered and treated in the early stages, it can be stopped, and some of the lost bone may grow back. This is very exciting news.

Periodontal disease is diagnosed with the use of X-rays and gentle measurements made around every tooth to see how much bone, if any, has been lost. This procedure will tell the dentist if the disease is present and how severe it is.

Treatment of this disease involves the physical removal of bacterial deposits from the tooth, proper home care, possibly placing antibiotic gels under the gumline, and perhaps a low-dose oral antibiotic pill, which can help block the bone loss caused by the immune system.

In addition to addressing periodontal disease, your dentist will also treat cavities in your teeth, which are holes resulting from acid secreted by bacterial colonies infecting teeth.

How are cavities repaired?

Once your dentist has determined that you have a cavity, he or she must evaluate how much of the tooth has been affected. If the cavity is small, a filling will work nicely to restore the tooth to its former size and shape after the affected portion of the tooth is removed.

Fillings are usually made of a silver mixture that contains mercury (amalgam) or of a tooth-colored material known as “composite.” Because of the controversy about mercury, many people prefer to have composite fillings placed on their teeth.

According to some researchers, composite fillings have other advantages over amalgam. The newer composites, when used with the new adhesives, attach tightly to the tooth, and it appears that the filling can last much longer than the old amalgams did. The composite fillings are also tooth-colored and are much nicer looking than the amalgam fillings, which tend to turn black with age. 

The key to a disease-free mouth 

1) Proper oral hygiene 

2) Visits to your dentist every three to six months as prescribed for periodontal care, if necessary 

3) Following through on recommended dental treatments, such as fillings

4) Follow-up examinations from your dentist every six months to help detect any existing problems as early as possible

An investment in your oral health is an investment in your future physical health, well-being and quality of life and is the best investment that you can make. It will be sure to make you smile.

— Edilia Marshall, D.M.D., MAGD, AAACD, is assistant professor of the University of New England College of Dental Medicine.

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