Glenn Ellis

*Oral Health is important to overall health and general well-being; you cannot be healthy without oral health.  There is little doubt that oral health and general well-being are closely linked. Almost 3 of every 10 adults over age 65 have lost all of their teeth, primarily because of tooth decay and gum disease, which affects about 25% of U.S. adults. Tooth loss has more than cosmetic effects—it may contribute to nutrition

problems by limiting the types of food that a person can eat.

Just as routine medical exams can help prevent future health problems, and dental exams are equally important. The evidence shows that an infection from periodontitis, or gum disease, can put you at risk for other serious conditions like heart disease, stroke and more!

What you may not realize is that oral health is not just important for maintaining a nice-looking smile and being able to eat corn on the cob. Good oral health is essential to quality of life. Consider a few of the reasons:

  • Every tooth in your mouth plays an important role in speaking, chewing and in maintaining proper alignment of other teeth.
  • A major cause of failure in joint replacements is infection, which can travel to the site of the replacement from the mouth in people with periodontal disease.
  • People with dentures or loose and missing teeth often have restricted diets since biting into fresh fruits and vegetables are often not only difficult, but also painful. This likely means they don’t get proper nutrition.
  • Most men and women age 65 and older report that a smile is very important to a person’s appearance.
  • And, maybe most importantly, recent research has advanced the idea that periodontal disease is linked to a number of major health concerns such as heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and diabetes.

Fifty percent of all people over the age of 18 have at least the early stage of gum disease, gingivitis. Three out of four over the age of 35 are afflicted by gum disease at one time or another.

You should be aware that the early stages of gum disease occurs WITHOUT PAIN! Yet, your gums and bones may be silently and seriously damaged by an infection that spreads from your gums to other parts of your body! Also, perfectly healthy teeth can eventually become loose and fall out.

More than half of older patients do not understand taking certain medications may affect the health of their mouth. For example, many medications, including diuretics, may reduce salivary flow. Dry mouth can cause increased plaque buildup, which increases the risk for periodontal disease. In addition, some calcium channel blockers may cause the gums to grow over the teeth.


      Dental Infections Do Go BEYOND Your Gums:

Stroke: A new study of fatty deposits lodged in the carotid arteries of stroke sufferer’s shows that 70% contain bacteria–and 40% of those bacteria come from the mouth.

Heart Disease: Bacteria get mixed up with blood-clotting cells called platelets, forming a clump that travels through the blood vessel and may promote the formation of heart-stopping blood clots.

Lungs: It has been shown that those with extensive tartar build-up and plaque on their teeth are at risk for chronic lung disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia.

Diabetes: One study showed that diabetics with gum disease were three times more likely to have heart attacks than those without gum disease.

Spontaneous Pre-Term Births (for women): Women with gum disease are 7 to 8 times more likely to give birth prematurely to low-birth-weight babies. Researchers believe that a low-grade infection, often from gum disease, may be linked to pre-term birth.


Women who are menopausal or post-menopausal may experience changes in their mouths.  Recent studies suggest that estrogen deficiency could place post-menopausal women at higher risk for severe periodontal disease and tooth loss.

In addition, hormonal changes in older women may result in discomfort in the mouth, including dry mouth, pain and burning sensations in the gum tissue and altered taste, especially salty, peppery or sour.

Bone loss is associated with both periodontal disease and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis could lead to tooth loss because the density of the bone that supports the teeth may be decreased. More research is being done to determine if and how a relationship between osteoporosis and periodontal disease exists.

To keep your teeth for a lifetime, you must remove the plaque from your teeth and gums every day with proper brushing and flossing. Regular dental visits are also important. Daily cleaning will help keep calculus formation to a minimum, but it won’t completely prevent it. A professional cleaning at least twice a year is necessary to remove calculus from places your toothbrush and floss may have missed.

The good news is that gum disease is easy to prevent by maintaining basic oral health steps.

See a periodontist if you or your dentist notice problems with your gum tissue. Problems may include:

  • Bleeding gums during brushing
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Pus between the teeth and gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • A change in the fit of your dentures

Oral health is often taken for granted, but it is an essential part of our everyday lives. Good oral health enhances our ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and convey our feelings and emotions through facial expressions. However, oral diseases, which range from cavities to oral cancer, cause pain and disability.

The effect that gum disease has on overall health is directly related to the extent and duration of the infection. Moderate to advanced gum disease exposes the body to excessive amounts of harmful bacteria 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as the infection is present. The stress this bacterial infection can place on the immune system is significant and it can dramatically reduce the body’s ability to fight other infections and diseases.


While the nation’s politicians are battling like kids, we should not overlook the role dental health plays in the cost of health care in this country.

Many studies have provided evidence of the dramatic effect of gum disease on health care costs. In 2007, in the US alone, we spent $2.2 TRILLION on health care. One study demonstrated that 21% of total health care costs could be saved by eliminating gum disease. That is nearly $500 billion dollars a year in savings simply by eliminating gum disease.


Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible.

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and is  a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.

His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, is due out in Fall, 2011.

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