Getting Serious About Oral Care

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Local Experts Explain How Healthy Dental Habits Can Prevent Major Complications

It’s been drilled into our brains since we were children—brushing, flossing and going to the dentist regularly prevents cavities. The older we get, however, we learn that neglecting our pearly whites can lead to even more serious issues than just a filling.

One of those issues is periodontal disease, a chronic inflammatory disease. “This is a pretty serious condition because if left untreated the teeth can become mobile and eventually fall out, even in the absence of any cavity,” says Dr. Elena Black, a dentist with advanced specialty training in orthodontics at Appalachian Orthodontics of Lynchburg.

As Dustin S. Reynolds, DDS, MS, explains, if tooth decay goes untreated, “it can reach the pulp or ‘nerve’ of the tooth causing serious problems.” Those problems include broken teeth, pain, swelling, and infection in the head and neck. As an endodontist at Forest Hill Endodontics, Reynolds focuses on saving a person’s natural teeth.

According to Black, periodontal disease has been linked to cardiovascular conditions. “To date, research has shown that people with gum disease have two to three times the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other serious cardiovascular event,” says Black.

Reynolds also confirms a strong link between the heart and oral care. “The mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body,” he says. “Research has shown that approximately 40 percent of the bacteria found in patients with heart disease actually comes from your mouth.”

Dry mouth, a common side effect of taking multiple medications, can lead to serious dental problems, Reynolds explains. Another major concern, though less frequent, is oral cancer.

Treating or correcting advanced oral problems includes deep cleaning and root planning, gum and/or bone grafts, root canal therapy, extraction of teeth, and implants to replace lost teeth.

Preventing these serious issues is not difficult. Brush twice a day, both Reynolds and Black agree, for approximately two minutes each time. “An easy way to do this is the divide the mouth into 4 quadrants and spend about 30 seconds in each quadrant,” Reynolds says.

You should floss every day as well, and don’t forget to schedule those check-ups at the dentist at least every six months. Aside from deep cleaning your teeth, your dentist will screen for oral cancer and make sure you aren’t developing any other serious issues.

Black also says some people may need to consider orthodontics to maintain the best oral care possible. “For example, if there is a lot of tooth crowding, the auto-cleaning of the mouth and flossing is hard to be performed and sometimes even access for a professional cleaning is difficult,” Black says. “So having orthodontic treatment to align the teeth and correct the bite will help with overall subsequent health of the entire mouth.”

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