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Ailing teeth and gums can affect whole body THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Forgetting to brush your teeth could lead to heart disease and other serious problems, dentists say

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Date published: 2/8/2009

BY LAUREN ORSINI

We've long known that poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay, painful cavities and losing friends due to bad breath. But dentists say few people are aware that bad dental habits also can lead to serious conditions like heart disease.

A report issued by the surgeon general in 2000 detailed how poor oral health is highly correlated with oral cancer, diabetes, heart disease and, for women, premature or low-birth-weight babies. Subsequent studies have indicated that people with periodontal disease are at greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

There may not be a cause-and-effect relationship

between poor hygiene and the diseases mentioned in the surgeon general's report--the connection is still being studied.

But the correlation is important, said Misty Mesimer, a registered dietitian and local coordinator for the Germanna Community College dental hygiene program.

"We don't know if poor dental hygiene leads directly to diseases, but having periodontal disease is not going to help your outcome of avoiding heart disease," Mesimer said. "It's one more infection that your body has to fight."

Mesimer said the surgeon general's report has shaped the way the dental program trains its students.

"In the curriculum at Germanna, students actually deal with patients with special medical conditions and observe the relationship between dental hygiene and other diseases," she said.

Dental disease is the No. 1 preventable disease in America, Mesimer noted.

"Dental decay is more common than asthma, and unlike asthma, it can be prevented with dental hygiene and checkups," she said.

A DIRTY MOUTH

The type of dental disease that most frequently leads to health issues elsewhere in the body is periodontal disease. Periodontal disease occurs when bacteria in the mouth causes an infection in the gums and bone beneath the gums.

Fredericksburg dentist Dr. Cathie Butterworth said that 85 percent of people who have the disease don't realize it.

"Periodontal disease doesn't hurt, so only a dentist can tell you if you have it," Butterworth said. "Some people don't notice until their teeth are loose or their spouse says, 'Your breath is killing me!'"

Symptoms of periodontal disease include:

tender gums

loose teeth

gums that bleed during brushing or flossing.

Patients often aren't aware of the symptoms, Butterworth said.


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SIGNS OF PERIODONTAL DISEASE

Red, swollen, or tender gums.

Bleeding gums while brushing or flossing

Loose or separating teeth

Tooth loss

Pus around the teeth and gums

Pain when chewing

A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite

A change in the fit of partials or dentures

--2001 Surgeon General's Report--Signs and Symptoms of Periodontal Disease