COLORADO SPRINGS — Local dentist Dr. Fred Guerra with Guerra Dental in Colorado Springs has told me for years about the connection he sees between patients who take good care of their teeth and gums and their overall health.
Dr. Guerra says, “I've been doing dentistry for over 40 years and rarely do I look at someone's mouth and say, ‘Your mouth looks beautiful, but the rest of your body is going to pot.’ There is a correlation on how well someone usually takes care of their teeth and gums and their frequency of care and their generalized health condition.”
There's been no research that would establish that simply brushing your teeth will, for example, decrease heart disease, but the connection between the two is becoming clearer.
Dr. Kevin Shortt, a cardiac surgeon with UCHealth Memorial, says, “We realized that when we look at coronary artery disease in a different way, now we know it's not just a local (heart) problem we find in someone's heart arteries. It's a systemic problem. People being healthy overall and reducing that inflammatory burden probably down the road is going to influence their probability of having coronary disease.”
By the time most heart patients are seeing a doctor, their brushing habits are well-established, and it’s too late for a heart doctor to advise taking good care of their teeth and gums to possibly address the problem.
Dr Shortt says: “We know most people get coronary artery disease or a blockage in their arteries usually in their mid-50s or often into their mid-60s. So they've already had problems or they've already had surgery potentially before I begin addressing their health problems. However, it's starting to be much clearer to us how we have to address the relationship of systemic inflammatory response, not just a local one (in the heart) that makes heart disease much worse.”
As more research continues to be done, dentists will continue to advise their patients to care for their teeth and gums not just for their mouth health, but for their overall health.
Dr. Guerra says, “A researcher at The University of Buffalo did a study and took real time blood tests as healthy individuals were getting their teeth cleaned, and the self-defenses of the body were able to mitigate those bacteria because these patients were healthy. Patients with underlying cardiac issues and periodontal (gum) disease - where they have a higher bio-burden in the mouth - when they started cleaning around the teeth, the bodies self defenses were not able to immediately mitigate that bacteria.”
If you have questions about the connection between heart health and higher rates of gum diseases and inflammation, follow up with your dentist.
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