Tag Archives: tooth loss

Bleeding Gums Are NOT Normal!

A lot of people think that it’s perfectly normal if their gums bleed a little bit when they brush or floss.

You imagine they’d think so if, say, their scalp bled a little while they washed their hair? Their hands during scrubbing?

Blood is a sign that something is wrong. Bleeding gums are a sign of disease. If left untreated, the result is lost bone and, ultimately, lost teeth.

 

 

But it’s not just the mouth that suffers. Periodontal (gum) disease has been linked with many other inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. For what happens in the mouth can and does affect the rest of the body. How could it be otherwise? Your mouth is connected to your body; your body is connected to your mouth.

Whoopi Goldberg, for one, found out about the oral/systemic link the hard way – and spoke of it quite powerfully on The View:

 

 

If you’re not taking care of your mouth, you’re not taking care of your body!

That’s plain, hard truth; wisdom that comes from, as Whoopi says, “paying the price” for neglecting her oral health for so long (and this despite the fact that she had insurance and far more than enough money to get regular, top-notch care).

Indeed, no one is immune from gum disease, though some are more susceptible than others. (Click here for a list of contributing factors.) Still, there are three important things we can do to lower our risk: 1) Don’t use tobacco; 2) Brush, floss and see your dentist regularly; and 3) Eat well, including lots of fresh vegetables and few sugary drinks and highly processed carbs.

Want to learn more about the connections between periodontal disease and systemic health? I recommend ZT4BG – Zero Tolerance for Bleeding Gums – a site maintained by dentist William C. Domb, DMD.

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Losing Your Teeth Is a Choice

When I saw the headline in my Google Alerts – “Reality Bites When Your Teeth Turn 45” – I just had to click the link and find out what this moaning was all about.

It was an op-ed piece in the Sydney (AU) Morning Herald – an attempt to write humorously about the physical changes that come with “old age.”

Birthday euphoria associated with my 45th last week vanished pretty quickly as the next morning, brimming with good resolutions in the dental hygiene line, I flossed my teeth with vigour. To my horror, half a tooth fell out. This sent me into a morose tailspin. So, this is what happens once you cross the 45-year-old line – your teeth fall out. I decided to abandon immediately all the healthy living birthday resolutions, such as flossing, as they obviously only usher on the inevitable at speed – and instead focus on the fun ones centred on wine, chocolate and wild partying.

Because, of course, when you have a health problem – and yes, losing part or all of a tooth you’re not supposed to lose is a health problem – you don’t want to do something to keep it from getting worse. You abandon all hope – because, so suggests the writer, it’s just a normal part of aging.

That’s the subtext. And if the writer actually and seriously believes it, well, that’s just sad.

For starters, 45 is not old by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, the body is aging, changing, slowing down. But it’s hardly falling apart – unless you’ve not taken very good care of it. And maybe that’s the case with the writer. After all, according to her article, after visiting the dentist about the tooth damage, she proceeded to eat a chewy sweet, even as she says she knew it was risky (and lost another tooth in the process).

The crux of the matter: Tooth loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. Apart from accidents, the only time we usually lose adult teeth is when we don’t take care of them: when we eat poorly, don’t brush and floss regularly, don’t see the dentist regularly; when we smoke, take drugs (legal and illegal), drink too much, don’t exercise. Such things harm our teeth and gums, making them vulnerable to decay and disease.

Teeth don’t normally fracture on their own either. Non-accident related fractures usually result from behaviors such as chewing ice or other hard objects, or habits such as clenching and grinding. Under normal conditions and with proper care, most people’s teeth will stay intact and in their mouths for their lifetime. Only when something goes wrong might they fall out, crack or break.

The main change healthy but aging teeth experience is darkening from a lifetime of staining and normal wear and tear. This problem is easily solved by whitening or doing things to create the illusion of brightness. For instance, women can use lipstick with blue tones to create the impression that their smile is whiter.

But almost never is damage to or loss of the teeth a byproduct of aging. It’s a byproduct of the choices we make. “Getting old” is just when your choices start catching up with you.

Image by xcode, via Flickr

 

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Gum Disease & Cancer, Cancer & Smoking, Smoking & Tooth Loss

Over the past year or so, there’s been a lot more talk in conventional dental circles about the relationship between oral health and physical health, much of it focusing on the demonstrated links between periodontal (gum) disease and inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. One of the links we’ve heard less about – at least in the popular media – is that between oral health and cancer.

A little over a year ago, a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention cast some light on this relationship, looking to the effect of chronic periodontitis on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). As gum disease in its most severe form leads to bone loss in the jaw, researchers measured the amount of alveolar bone loss. (This is the bone that secures the teeth in their sockets.) Even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, alcohol use and missing teeth, they found that for each additional millimeter of bone loss, an individual’s risk of developing HNSCC increased by more than four fold, with the strongest association occurring in the oral cavity. The scientists concluded that chronic gum disease may well be an independent risk factor for HNSCC. Smoking may raise the risk even more, considering that it aggravates alveolar bone loss.

Because the alveolar bone is the fundamental structure that keeps teeth in the mouth, as it erodes, the individual becomes more susceptible to losing their teeth. There’s simply not enough bone to hold them in place. This is something we’ve known about for some time, but there’s continued interest in understanding the progress of gum disease, as well as the impact of risk factors such as smoking even after the the person has quit.

Along these lines, a sobering study was just published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, in which researchers looked at the long term effects of smoking and tooth loss among older adults. Unsurprisingly, current and former smokers both showed a much higher rate of tooth loss than those who had never smoked. Surprisingly, though risk declined significantly once individuals quit smoking, their risk remained elevated even after 30 smoke-free years.

For those who still think smoking makes you look cool or sexy, you might want to think about how cool you’d look without teeth or how sexy when taking out dentures each night before going to bed.

Yet another reason to quit the smokes – or never start in the first place.

 

Image via foldedspace

 

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