Why Regular Dental Care Is Important at Any Age

03.08.2017

Many more Americans are spending money on cosmetic dentistry. Figures from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry show $2.75 billion is spent annually on cosmetic dental treatments to improve the appearance of teeth, while approximately $1 billion is spent on making teeth whiter.

Many more Americans are spending money on cosmetic dentistry. Figures from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry show $2.75 billion is spent annually on cosmetic dental treatments to improve the appearance of teeth, while approximately $1 billion is spent on making teeth whiter.

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Despite this, the statistics also show that last year nearly 40% of adults age 65 and older failed to visit a dentist within the last year. Out of these nearly half said cost was the reason for not going. This shows a huge disparity amongst those prepared to spend considerable sums of money on just improving the appearance of their smile compared to those who are neglecting their oral health.

It’s a particular problem for older Americans, 70% of whom do not have any form of dental health coverage. However, the potential costs of ignoring dental health can be much higher because poor oral health can affect the whole body and older people are particularly at risk.

One of the major problems of ignoring dental health is that it can increase the risk for systemic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Not only can these diseases negatively affect a person’s quality of life and potentially the length of their life, but they will also result in much higher medical costs. In comparison, scheduling regular dental check-ups and hygiene appointments is a much more cost-effective option and it’s something everybody should be doing regardless of age.

How Can Poor Oral Health Increase the Risk of Systemic Diseases?

The real problem with poor oral health is that it greatly increases the risk of periodontal disease. This is a bacterial infection affecting the gums and most adults will develop some form of this disease at some point during their lifetime. In its mildest form, called gingivitis, periodontal disease causes the gums to bleed more frequently, often during brushing and flossing as the gum tissue becomes increasingly fragile.

As the infection worsens, the gums begin to bleed more often, will appear increasingly puffy, red and swollen and will begin to recede from the teeth. As they recede, this creates periodontal pockets in between the gums and the teeth.

These gaps are difficult to keep clean with an ordinary toothbrush as they can become quite deep and they provide the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. This allows the infection to get even worse, eventually destroying all the structures holding teeth in place which include the jawbone and the ligaments attached to teeth and to the tooth sockets.

Eventually, this can lead to tooth loss and periodontal disease is the most common reason for losing teeth. While this is serious enough on its own, as gums begin to bleed, bacteria from your mouth can begin to enter your bloodstream. This is the reason why poor oral health can increase the risk of systemic diseases.

Systemic diseases and health problems associated with poor oral health also include respiratory infections, dementia, some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and erectile dysfunction.

So, what exactly is the connection between periodontal disease and these diseases?

Heart Disease

When the bacteria that cause periodontal disease enter the bloodstream they can cause the arteries to harden, creating plaque buildup that can lead to blood flow problems, increasing the risk of a heart attack. The effect on the arteries can also lead to hypertension, increasing the risk of stroke.

Diabetes

Diabetics are already more vulnerable to infection and periodontal disease can make it harder to control this condition. Often a diabetic with poorly controlled blood sugar levels will have a higher level of glucose in their saliva, fueling the bacteria that cause periodontal disease. Once these bacteria enter the bloodstream, it’s more difficult to control blood sugar levels and they are likely to rise.

Respiratory Infections

Bacteria causing periodontal disease can travel to the lungs through the bloodstream or can be breathed into the lungs. This increases the risk of respiratory infections that include acute bronchitis and pneumonia.

Dementia

The bacteria responsible for causing periodontal disease have been found in the brain and could potentially increase the risk of brain cell loss and memory loss, possibly even causing Alzheimer’s disease.

Cancer

Some blood cancers, pancreatic cancer, and kidney cancer are more common in people who have poor oral health. Poor dental health can also increase the risk of oral and throat cancers.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you have periodontal disease, you are four times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis because just like a periodontal disease, it’s an inflammatory condition. Oral bacteria that gets into the bloodstream can cause infection throughout the body, increasing the risk of this painful condition.

Erectile Dysfunction

Severe periodontal disease can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, potentially slowing or even blocking the flow of blood to the genitals. This can make it harder or even impossible for men to achieve an erection.

Poor Oral Health Is Easily Preventable

The good news is that it is relatively easy to maintain good oral health which is why dentists strongly suggest patients visit them at six monthly intervals for check-ups and cleans, or even more frequently for people who already have existing health conditions. These regular checkups are a simple and cost-effective way to ensure that any small changes to the condition of your gums are quickly detected and are easily treated.

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Normally gingivitis can be treated simply with an ordinary scale and polish combined with an improved oral hygiene routine at home. Your dentist or hygienist can talk to you about ways to make your brushing and flossing routine more effective, including different brushing techniques and different tools to use for flossing.

What to Do If You Already Have Periodontal Disease

If you recognize some of the symptoms mentioned in this article, then your best bet is to book a proper periodontal evaluation with a periodontist. Unlike your general dentist, a periodontist specializes in treating gum conditions and can provide you with the best and most advanced periodontal care to treat any symptoms of periodontal disease.

Even if you choose to visit your general dentist first, they may refer you to a periodontist, especially if you have advanced periodontal disease. A periodontal dental office will have the specialized equipment needed to treat this disease as often advanced periodontal disease needs a combination of surgical and nonsurgical procedures to remove the bacterial infection and to help restore dental health.

Article last time updated on 03.08.2017.

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