Oral Health : Dental Health Impacts Overall Health

Mary Jean Porter

People are starting to understand that there's a more-thancasual connection between dental health and overall health. Pueblo dentist Dr. William Corley says people are becoming more aware that there's a link between periodontal disease and other diseases such as diabetes, that smoking can harm the mouth as well as the lungs, that a poor diet hurts the teeth and not just the waistline.

"If a person has gingivitis, it's not just the soft tissues that are affected," Corley says. "There can be so much infection in the gums, you can lose bone. The teeth get loose and then you can lose them."

Lost teeth can lead to problems chewing, poor nutrition and unwanted weight loss.

An active infection like this isn't isolated in the mouth.

"The blood that runs through the gums can run through the heart," Corley says.

Radiation treatment to the head or neck can reduce the output of the salivary glands, which in turn can cause dry mouth and lead to what are called radiation caries. That's because the sticky stuff on the teeth becomes harder to remove in the absence of saliva. Dry mouth also can be a side effect of blood pressure medication and antihistamines.

With all this opportunity for problems, it's important to take scrupulous care of the teeth. Corley recommends:

--Seeing a dentist regularly -- every six months unless there are problems.

--Getting periodic dental X-rays as recommended by the dentist.

--Having the teeth professionally cleaned.

--Getting checked for oral cancer and other problems. "Lumps and bumps, something we can see, or not," Corley says. "Sometimes it's just a discolored area with no real consistency to it. We don't like to see anything that's not typical."

--At home, brushing at least twice daily and flossing daily are "absolutely essential." This should be a 5- or 10-minute job, not a quick once-over. If the person is really susceptible to decay, Corley recommends brushing after eating anything.

--A prescription fluoride preparation can be beneficial for some people, and Listerine has been shown to be helpful, too.

--Don't forget diet. "You can't just live off pop and sweets."


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