Smiles reveal a lot about mood, and personality. But the American Dental Association says that the teeth we display to form those grins can also clue people in to how old we are, what kind of food we eat, whether or not we use tobacco products, or what kind of environment we live in, now or previously. For both dentists and doctors, our teeth and mouths can offer hints about our overall health.
Periodontal (gum) disease causes gum irritation, recession, swelling, or even tooth loss. The disease is both a painful and serious result of not brushing or flossing properly, and not seeing the dentist for timely checkups and cleanings. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, those with gum disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease. This can be due to bacteria from the mouth’s dental plaque entering the bloodstream from the gums. This “traveling” bacteria can attach to fatty build-ups that are already in the blood vessels. Inflammation or swelling (the body’s defense against bacteria) can then cause arteries to narrow and form blood clots.
Here are some tips for a lifetime of healthy teeth, gums, and mouths, for the entire family:
- Get kids into the good habit of brushing their teeth early. Parents can begin to use toothpaste to brush children’s teeth when kids reach 12 months old. Start gently flossing kids’ teeth as soon as the spaces between teeth begin to close.
- May the floss be with you. Brush twice a day, and floss once. (A 2018 study featured in the Journal of Periodontology says that flossing before brushing may help remove harmful dental plaque even better than flossing after brushing.)
- Make family dental checkups/cleanings every six months. (See a dentist sooner with any problems.)
- Check mouths often for signs of gum disease. Bleeding, bright red, or swollen gums, gums that are receding, sores, or bad breath are telltale signs. See your dentist right away with these, just like you would with any jaw pain, with trouble eating, or with a dry mouth.
- Don’t smoke, don’t use smokeless tobacco, and don’t vape! Smokeless tobacco causes many serious diseases: esophageal cancer (cancer of the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach), oral cancer, and pancreatic cancer. It may also cause gum disease, leukoplakia (white patches in the mouth), and heart disease. Studies on harm from vaping are ongoing (vaping liquid includes some nicotine).
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano