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Good Oral Hygiene Is About More Than Healthy Teeth

Gum disease in and of itself can lead to many oral problems, including bone and tooth loss, but even more frightening, a number of studies have shown an association between gum disease and a variety of other, extremely serious health conditions: heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s.

For example, studies have shown that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. There are many theories to explain the connection. Oral bacteria can affect the heart when they get into the bloodstream, or it could be that inflammation caused by gum disease increases plaque build-up that may, in turn, contribute to swelling of the arteries.

As reported in a recent newsflash, NYU dental researchers have found the first long-term evidence that gum disease may increase the risk of cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease in healthy individuals as well as in those who already are cognitively impaired.

You might think that tooth loss and dry mouth happen naturally as you get older, but the truth is most of these conditions result from treatable conditions such as gum disease (as well as from cavities and even side effects of medications). To protect your teeth and your overall health, it’s important to overcome stumbling blocks to good dental care, like having a hard time getting to the dentist’s office, and take the right steps to care for your teeth. These include:

  • Use toothpaste and dental rinses that contain cavity-fighting fluoride.
  • Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day.
  • Get an electric toothbrush if you have a hard time holding and maneuvering a toothbrush. Use a floss holder for the same reason.
  • See your dentist regularly—every 6 months or as often as needed.
  • Avoid cigarettes, all smokeless tobacco products and excessive alcohol.
  • Tell your doctor if you suspect that any of your medications are negatively affecting your dental health or if you notice any changes in dental health or overall health.
  • Talk to your doctor about getting any needed dental work before undergoing surgery or any treatment that may cause problems with your oral health.
  • If you’re a caregiver for someone unable to attend to their own oral health, learn what steps you can take to do it for them.