Cavities: Beware the Second Wave!
By David Martin, RN, CEO, VeinInnovations
Today, and for the next few months, Live Healthy Atlanta focuses on actions and technology to help us preserve and improve our health now, and as we age.
It’s a tough lesson to swallow, but we humans have two times in our lives when we are prone to have those annoying – and sometimes excruciatingly painful – cavities crop up in numbers.
Of course the first round of cavities comes when we are children, when we’re introduced to the joys of juice and sugary treats and we’re not great, yet, at brushing and flossing.
The second assault on our tooth enamel comes when we’re in our 50s and 60s, when many of us go on medications to control high blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, anxiety, pain, or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases.
Unfortunately, one of the side effects of modern medications is a drying of the mouth. While dry mouth isn’t a normal part of getting older, more than 500 medications are known to cause dry mouth. This lack of saliva flow makes our teeth prime candidates for more bacteria and plaque buildup, and makes our gums equally, if not more, at risk.
Gum disease is an especially vexing, and all-too-common, problem. Oftentimes, the nerves in teeth shrink with age, so the alarm system – pain – is not as sensitive. The bacteria in plaque that causes decay also irritates gums, making them swell. Gums become more prone to bleeding, and, if left untreated, are more likely to separate from teeth. Deepened spaces, called pockets, are formed under the teeth, and are ideal places for food to lodge, fueling more plaque growth. Ultimately, advanced gum disease can wreak destruction on the gums, as well as the bones and ligaments that hold teeth in place.
While as recently as the last century it was not uncommon to equate getting older with losing teeth, today this does not have to be the case. And it shouldn’t be, because the truth is that a healthy mouth is vitally important to your overall health.
In 2012, the American Heart Association published a statement saying it supported research showing the association between gum disease and heart disease, but not a causal association. With gum disease affecting about 46 percent of Americans, this was big news, though many researchers wanted the American Heart Association to go further in tying the importance of healthy gums to healthy hearts.
New evidence supporting the causal relationship was released in 2014, and subsequent research continues to make the connection.
The 2014 study, Funded by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, was part a larger study on the effects of gum disease on overall health being conducted in the laboratory of by Kesavalu Lakshmyya in the University of Florida’s Department of Periodontology in the College of Dentistry.
“In Western medicine there is a disconnect between oral health and general health in the rest of the body; dentistry is a separate field of study from Medicine. The mouth is the gateway to the body and our data provides one more piece of a growing body of research that points to direct connections between oral health and systemic health,” says Lakshmyya.
“Our intent is to increase physician awareness of links between oral bacterial infection and heart disease. Understanding the importance of treating gum disease in patients with heart disease will lead to future studies and recommendations for careful attention to oral health in order to protect patients against heart disease,” says cardiologist Alexandra Lucas of the University of Florida, College of Medicine, who is a co-investigator in the research.
Research released in 2015 was the first time researchers demonstrated the ability of an oral treatment for gum disease to also reduce inflammation in the artery wall. The active ingredient is an inflammation resolving molecule, known as Resolvin E1. This discovery further underscores the increasing body of evidence showcasing how problems in the mouth — and how they are treated — can have life changing influences on other key systems in the body, such as the heart in this case.
While research continues, there is no doubt that oral health has a huge impact on how we look and feel, and may even have an impact on future generations, as a recent article from Web MD reports on the benefits of good oral health:
Boosts Your Self-esteem and Confidence
Decayed teeth and gum disease are often associated not only with an unsightly mouth but very bad breath — so bad it can affect your confidence, self-image, and self-esteem. With a healthy mouth that’s free of gum disease and cavities, your quality of life is also bound to be better — you can eat properly, sleep better, and concentrate with no aching teeth or mouth infections to distract you.
May Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Chronic inflammation from gum disease has been associated with the development of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, blockages of blood vessels, and strokes.
Experts stop short of saying there is a cause-and-effect between gum disease and these other serious health problems, but the link has shown up in numerous studies. The findings of these studies may suggest that maintaining oral health can help protect overall health.
Preserves Your Memory
Adults with gingivitis (swollen, bleeding gums) performed worse on tests of memory and other cognitive skills than did those with healthier gums and mouths, according to a report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
Those with gingivitis were more likely to perform poorly on two tests: delayed verbal recall and subtraction — both skills used in everyday life.
Using an antibacterial mouthwash or toothpaste can help reduce bacteria in the mouth that can cause gingivitis.
Prevents Infection and Inflammation in Your Body
Poor oral health has been linked with the development of infection in other parts of the body.
Research has found an association between gum disease and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints. Experts say the mechanism of the destruction of connective tissues in both gum disease and RA is similar. Eating a balanced diet, seeing your dentist regularly, and good oral hygiene helps reduce your risks of tooth decay and gum disease. Make sure you brush twice a day, and floss and use an antiseptic mouthwash once a day.
Helps Keep Blood Sugar Stable if You Have Diabetes
People with uncontrolled diabetes often have gum disease. Having diabetes can make you less able to fight off infection, including gum infections that can lead to serious gum disease.
Helps Pregnant Women Carry a Baby to Term
Women may experience increased gingivitis during pregnancy. Some research suggests a relationship between gum disease and preterm, low-birth weight infants.
Not all studies have found a solid link, but maintaining good oral health is still the best goal. If you’re pregnant, visit your dentist or periodontist as part of your prenatal care. Consider it good practice for the role modeling that lies ahead for all new parents.
The Link Between Medications and Cavities
The Mouth-Body Connection: Gum Disease & Health
Gum disease bacteria may cause heart disease
How gum disease treatment can prevent heart disease
“New” Periodontal Disease and Cardiovascular Disease
Is Gum Disease Linked to Other Health Problems?