We all know that prevention is one of the keys to maintaining overall health. We exercise and watch what we eat to help reduce our risk of heart attack, stroke and certain cancers. In much the same way, we should take good care of our (dental) health now to prevent gum disease and tooth loss later.

Why is this important? The reasons are much more than cosmetic. While we once believed the worst outcome of gum disease was tooth loss, we now know that oral health matters from head to toe.

Like smoking, elevated cholesterol or obesity, periodontal (gum and bone) disease may be at risk factor for a number of serious health conditions. In recent studies, gum disease has been linked to:

  • heart disease and stroke
  • pneumonia and other respiratory diseases
  • diabetes
  • premature, low birth weight deliveries
How is this possible? For those with gum disease, the simple act of brushing the teeth or chewing can injure gum tissue, allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream. It is believed that these bacteria may travel to other parts of the body, potentially worsening or causing other types of health problems.
 
How Gum Disease Develops
Gum disease begins with the formation of hard and soft deposits on the surface of the teeth. Over time, a build-up of bacteria called plaque collects at the gum line, eventually hardening on the teeth into calcium deposits called calculus (tartar). With poor oral care, those bacteria can cause inflammation of the gums (gingivitis), penetrate the gum line and finally spread into the underlying bone (periodontitis).
Gum Disease and Your Heart
 
Studies have suggested that bacteria from diseased gums may travel through the bloodstream, potentially contributing to the formation of artery-clogging plaques. It is also believed that gum disease may contribute to infective endocarditis, a condition in which the interior lining of the heart and heart valves become inflammed, possibly due to a bacterial infection. If left untreated, this condition could lead to a fatal infection.
Gum Disease and Your Lungs 
 
Scientists now believe that gum disease may also be a significant risk factor, increasing the risk of respiratory infections, and potentially worsening the severity of pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Preventing gum disease may help you breathe easier.
Gum Disease and Diabetes
 
Severe peridontal disease may increase both blood sugar levels and the amount of time the body functions with high blood sugar, putting those with diabetes at increased risk for complications. People with diabetes and gum disease should receive regular treatment from an oral health professional to reduce inflammation of the gums.
Gum Disease and Pregnancy
Research has linked gum disease in women to an increased risk of premature delivery.
What is the connection? Researchers believe that bacteria from diseased gums enter the bloodstream during eating or brushing. These bacteria may then affect the levels of prostaglandins (or PGE2), a biological fluid naturally present in a woman’s body. When the level of PGE2 rises significantly, usually in the ninth month of pregnancy, labour begins. But in women with serious gum disease, the level of PGE2 may rise too soon, triggering early labour.
What Can You Do?
 
Visiting your Dental Hygienist on a regular basis is one of the most important steps you can take to maintain or improve your oral health.
Here are some general guidelines for maintaining good oral health at any age:
Infant Care
  • Give the infant plain water instead of milk or sweet juices at naptime.
  • Gently clean newly erupted teeth, gums and tongue with gauze or washcloth.
Children
  • Familiarize children with oral cleaning habits.
  • Parents may wish to clean the child’s teeth before bedtime and allow the child to try brushing on his/her own in the morning.
  • First visits to the dental hygienist are recommended at about age two.
Teenagers and Adults
  • A thorough cleaning of your mouth once or twice a day is sufficient.
  • BRUSHING: place your brush at a 45 degree angle to the junction between the tooth and gum, applying gentle pressure as you move the brush away from the gums. Don’t forget to brush your tongue (with or without toothpaste), where bacteria build up. You should be spending about three minutes each time you brush (your dental hygienist may also recommend that you use an electric toothbrush) and NEVER forget to FLOSS!