You probably already know that periodic dental evaluations and treatments can do your teeth and mouth a world of good, from detecting early-stage oral cancer to dealing with cavities before they can invade the tooth roots. Did you know, however, that those dental appointments and procedures can also have a major impact on other aspects of your health and wellness? Here are three surprising fringe benefits of scheduling that regular care from a dentist in your area.
1. A Healthier Heart
When food and saliva form into tartar, your gums can fall prey to a condition called periodontal disease. Bacteria attracted to tartar cause the immune system to mount an inflammatory reaction. Unfortunately, this reaction damages the gum tissue, possibly leading to tooth loss. That's one reason your dentist recommends regular professional cleanings—but it's not the only reason. The same bacteria that create periodontal disease can seep into your bloodstream, hitching a ride to your other major organs, including the heart. This bacterial infiltration can cause serious or even life-threatening damage to your heart valves, a problem called endocarditis.
When you schedule those routine dental examinations and cleanings, you're helping your heart as well as your teeth and gums. A deep cleaning that removes tartar from below the gumline can keep that dangerous bacteria out of your bloodstream and away from your major organs.
2. Better Blood Pressure Awareness
Do you keep track of your blood pressure on any kind of regular basis? Even if you have the proper equipment at home, it can be all too easy to forget about this tedious but important form of self-maintenance. A reading above 140/90 could indicate hypertension—a dangerous condition that can damage your circulatory system, vision, and internal organs while also raising your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, hypertension can respond well to treatment, but you won't seek that treatment unless you know the problem exists.
Dentists commonly take their adult patients' blood pressure at the beginning of a routine evaluation or treatment. They do this because they need to know whether you have hypertension before they can safely administer anesthesia. Some anesthetics can cause blood pressure to rise, placing patients who already have high blood pressure at additional risk. The stress associated with some major dental procedures could also send your blood pressure up to an unacceptable level. Your dentist will let you know if you have high blood pressure and ask you to seek treatment before going ahead with your dental care—and this extra awareness could save your life in the long run.
3. Lifestyle Changes That Promote Wellness
Dentists aren't nutritionists, but you might be surprised at just how beneficial your dentist's insights could prove for your overall health and wellness. For instance, if you show signs of thinning enamel or frequent cavities, you may be consuming too many acidic foods and beverages. Your dentist may then recommend that cut down on fruit juices or sugary snacks in favor of eating more cheese (which can actually lower the pH in your mouth) or switching from sugar to xylitol (a non-sugar sweetener that can actually help protect your tooth enamel against bacteria).
Do your teeth show signs of premature wear? You could be grinding your teeth in your sleep without realizing it, a problem known as bruxism. Bruxism often occurs as a side effect of chronic stress and anxiety. Tooth grinding is also associated with sleep apnea, a nighttime airway constriction that can place you at risk for serious health problems. Your dentist can recognize the telltale signs of bruxism during a routine dental exam and recommend a variety of solutions to combat the problem. In addition to receiving a custom-fitted night guard to protect your damage from further damage, you may get tips on everything from stress reduction to cutting your caffeine intake or looking into the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device, which can help sleep apnea patients to breathe more normally.
The next time you toy with the idea of putting off that upcoming dental exam, put that notion aside and keep your date with the dentist. It's an investment in your health and extends far beyond your teeth! Reach out to dentists in your area for more information.