Time to brush up on dental hygiene

Published 11:03 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Every popular magazine and many newspapers are running articles about what to do to stay healthy, how to avoid dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and how to live longer.

Most of those informative items hit on the same themes, many of which I’ve suggested in previous articles myself – improved diet, nutritious foods, consistent physical and mental exercise and moderation in those behaviors we know to be detrimental to us like smoking, eating too much junk, illicit drugs and heavy alcohol consumption.

The challenge for too many people is that avoiding processed foods, giving up fast foods, reducing calories and fat intake and – heaven forbid – getting up off the couch to exercise or read a book instead of watching TV is just more effort and energy than they care to invest, even in their own health.

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Well, here’s an exercise that even a diehard couch potato can get into, takes only minutes a day, and can have a very positive impact on your heart health as well as reduce the risk of memory loss – proper oral hygiene. Yes, it’s that simple.

Proper daily flossing and brushing your teeth aren’t just habits you should have to maintain your smile, but to maintain your overall health.

It’s already been well documented that poor oral health leads to gum inflammation and there are strong links to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and lung disease. And now there’s another risk factor recently explained and published last December in a scientific journal.

As reported by Dr. Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, poor oral health that leads to tooth loss has been linked to increases in diagnoses of dementia in those patients.

In a new study involving 4200 people, all age 65 or older, it was found that those with fewer of their own natural teeth were at, “increased risk of experiencing memory loss or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.”

This study has added even more weight to the growing body of evidence that poor oral health and memory decline are related. Actually, that makes a tremendous amount of sense, since the body isn’t made up of discrete internal systems that function independently of all other systems. A simple cut on your knee or elbow, left untreated can result in a raging bacterial infection – and I can attest to that from personal experience. If that infection is not quickly resolved it can lead to heart-related problems, and in extreme cases, death.

Among the participants in the study that showed symptoms of memory loss, many reported that they had rarely or never been to a dentist. Combine the avoidance of regular visits to a dentist with poor oral hygiene habits and you have a basis for widespread decay, infections, gum disease and tooth loss.

According to the lead researcher in the study, “…gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults… [and] many people are still unaware of the relationship.”

The relationship between gum disease and heart disease is based on the premise that bacteria from the mouth can enter the blood stream, and subsequently affect the heart by attaching to fatty deposits in the blood vessels of the heart.

In more easily understood terms, that means that clots are more likely to form in vessels, possibly reducing normal blood flow to the heart, starving the heart muscle of oxygen and possibly leading to a heart attack. Some existing studies indicate that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease as those without gum disease.

Statistics also show that people diagnosed with diabetes are more likely to suffer from gum disease due to the increase in infection rates and slower healing times.

The bad news is that we cannot fully reverse the effects of existing gum disease, but the good news is that it can be treated and steps can be taken to prevent further damage.

The steps to prevention are, as I suggested, simple and take little time. They include proper brushing for at least two minutes in the morning, flossing and brushing for at least two minutes at night before bed plus seeing your dentist regularly.

These simple steps can help you to maintain your teeth, your smile, your memory and your health.

Ron Kauffman is a Geriatric Care Manager and Certified Senior Advisor. He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available at www.seniorlifestyles.net. He can be reached by email at drron407@bellsouth.net.