Gum disease can wreck your teeth – and it can even steal away your life.
The life-threatening nature of periodontal disease might come as a surprise. But studies have linked gum disease to serious health conditions such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Bacterial pneumonia
It is believed that bacteria and inflammation associated with periodontal disease combine forces to wreak havoc with many aspects of your health.
Recently, Jan Potempa, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, unveiled research that links the bacteria associated with periodontitis – the most serious form of gum disease – to Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and aspiration pneumonia.
Despite these dangers many of us don’t properly protect our gums and teeth, says Dr. Sally Cram, a Washington, D.C.-based dentist who specializes in periodontics and dental implants.
“Most of us have busy lives,” she says. “We’re very tired, we’re going to bed at 11 o’clock at night. The last thing you want to do is stand in front of the bathroom mirror and spend 10 to 15 minutes cleaning your teeth.”
Still, the importance of properly caring for our teeth cannot be overestimated. “Ninety to 95 percent of dental problems are preventable,” Cram says.
Cram says a two-pronged protective regimen will help keep gum disease at bay and “save you a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of pain and suffering.”
Part 1: Regularly visiting the dentist
First, Cram recommends consistent visits to your dentist for dental cleanings and examinations. She uses the analogy of regularly bringing your car into a mechanic for a checkup.
“If you do the preventative maintenance on your car all the time, then it's not going to cost you a whole lot -- and you're going to be able to keep the amount of time you have the car in the garage down,” she says.
There are many things that a dentist can see that we cannot. “When someone else has a light and mirror and they’re looking inside our mouths, they can pick up on things,” Cram says.
Part 2: Keeping good habits at home
But just as important is to maintain your teeth at home on a daily basis. So, brush twice daily and use floss or some other device to get between your teeth once daily, Cram says.
“The bottom line is there’s no magic pill, there’s no magic mouthwash,” she says. “There’s no substitute for good-old getting in there and removing the plaque and bacteria every day.”
To keep your teeth and gums healthy, make sure you are using the correct tools and techniques, Cram says. This can vary from person to person – some people may find it difficult to manipulate dental floss, while others do much better with electric toothbrushes than with manual toothbrushes.
“Every person has a different-sized mouth, their teeth are in different positions,” she says. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all ‘just brush and floss.’”
Getting help with your dental care
If you find any aspect of dental care challenging or frustrating, talk with your dentist about alternative ways to clean your teeth.
Doing so can help you better manage the “drugstore aisle of dental confusion” so you can find the right tools for you, Cram says.
Also, settle on a dental cleaning and care regimen that works for you – even if it’s not ideal.
For example, while it’s best to remove as much plaque from your teeth as you can right before bedtime, don’t force yourself to do so if you find the process miserable.
Instead, focus on caring for your teeth at a time that works better for you, such as immediately after dinner, or even after lunch.
“Look at your schedule and think of a time when you're most inclined to stick with the habit,” Cram says.
For more tips on keeping your teeth and gums healthy, Cram recommends visiting the American Dental Association’s MouthHealthy.org website.
Investing just five or 10 minutes a day caring for your teeth twice daily can make a world a difference to your oral health, Cram says.
“Those things can save you countless hours in the dental chair, a lot of money in the dental chair and really keep the procedures down to a minimum,” she says.