There is much evidence to prove the risk that goes with poor oral health. The fact is, it’s hard to have a healthy body if oral health concerns are ignored. For example, when oral infections spread throughout the body, they can raise the risks for heart disease and diabetes.
How Oral Plaque Attacks a Healthy Body
Food particles stick to your teeth when you eat. These attract bacteria. Unless you brush and floss each day, the bacteria turn into plaque and that turns into tartar, which may lead to gum disease.
Symptoms of gum disease include bad breath, painful chewing, sensitive teeth, or swollen gums. Any of these should prompt you to see a dentist. They will be able to tell if gum disease is present, and they can remove any tartar that has formed.
Without dental care, though, tiny pockets can form between your teeth and gums. Then, as more bacteria gets in, the pockets may grow worse. Finally, the oral bacteria can enter your bloodstream.
Once they enter your blood, bacteria can inflame other parts of your body. For example, if you are at risk for heart disease, your heart could find it hard to relax and contract as needed.
Scientists have confirmed oral bacteria’s link with heart attack. And they have reported that when plaque s is scraped away by a dentist, the heart works better.
Once they enter your bloodstream, oral bacteria can also cause glucose levels to skyrocket. This failure to process sugar can be hazardous to diabetics and pre-diabetic alike.
However, studies show when dentists remove plaque the blood sugar levels return closer to normal.
Stroke and Alzheimer’s
The effect of oral bacteria on the brain is very similar to its effect on the heart. It makes the brain’s vessels more vulnerable to developing plaque, which is the key factor for a stroke.
In 2016, British researchers monitored Alzheimer’s patients and saw that those with gum disease experienced mental deterioration six times faster than those with healthier gums. Alzheimer’s patients are also more likely to suffer from poor oral health because they forget daily habits like brushing teeth.
Doctors and Oral Health
More and more, doctors ask their patients about dental visits before drawing conclusions or moving forward with operations, according to Men’s Journal.
Cardiologist Melvyn Rubenfire, for example, schedules dentist appointments for patients going into surgery in order to eliminate the risk of complications from oral infections.
Harvard endocrinologist William Hsu tells his diabetic patients their worries about glucose levels will decline significantly if they see the dentist every six months for an exam. When he observes a rise in blood glucose, his first question to the patient is, “When was the last time you had a dental cleaning?”
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No matter the time of the year, a Google search of “oral health news” or “latest dental news” usually reveals countless stories about free dental clinics, free care for vets, or dentists who volunteer to help those in need.
Among the many positive takeaways from these articles is that dentists love to help people.
Empathy is clearly a common trait of any sound medical professional. But how do dentists learn empathy? An experiment done at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry in 2016 shed some light on how dentists can become more understanding.
Empathy: Walking in Patients’ Shoes
At UNC, third-year dental students are required to spend eight weeks treating patients from low-income neighborhoods around the state. The program has existed for 45 years. Even so, faculty member Lewis Lampiris began to see that students, many of whom were from well off families, were still not able to truly connect with their patients.
“I would hear things like, ‘These people are bad that come to these clinics.’ ‘These parents – they don’t take care of their kids.’ ‘They don’t feed them well.’ ‘They bring the whole family to the visit,’” Lampiris told North Carolina Health News.
Lampiris decided to put the students through an exercise in empathy that the school’s nursing students use. When Lampiris introduces the exercise to the students, he tells them frankly that no mock-up can ever truly show them exactly what it’s like to live in poverty.
“This is not a game,” Lampiris tells his students. “I want you to be aware that there are some members, some of your classmates here, who have experienced poverty. This is where they came from. For them, this is real. I want you to respect that fact.”
…be aware that some of your classmates have experienced poverty. For them, this is real. I want you to respect that fact.
To begin, Lampiris splits the students into groups, or “families,” with each group member assigned a role. He gives each “family” details about their expenses and total income as well work, school, or other responsibilities.
The families use fake money to cover bills, groceries, gas and common expenses like car maintenance, health issues, or a tutor. These bills left some unable to pay rent, and forced them to seek help from a lender or a pawn shop owner.
Empathy and Understanding Patients’ Economic Decisions
At the end of the exercise, 98% of the students said that they found it helpful. That includes Kelsey Knight Cody, who was very skeptical at first.
Cody told NC News she thought of the exercise often when she worked with patients. Now, she said, she has a firmer understanding of her low-income patients’ economic decisions.
“They may just not have time, or the clinic hours wouldn’t work out, or they couldn’t take off from their job because that would mean they couldn’t feed their family that week or they didn’t have transportation,” Cody said.
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Some students told Lampiris that they identified at once with some patients when they saw their responsibilities were very similar to the roles they had played in the exercise. He believes more medical and dental schools should do this type of exercise.
“There will be more and more people that cannot access care because of the costs associated with it,” he said. “Everybody who is taking care of folks needs to understand.”
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Patients who are wary of the dentist may be able to relax at last. More and more dental practices around the US now offer the type of treatment you’d see in a spa.
Oscar Suarez, 29, admits he used to “always get nervous” before he saw a dentist. “You think, it’s going to be long, it’s going to be painful, I’m going to have to wait,” he told Greenwich Time.
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Those days are gone now that Suarez is a patient of a dental spa called Tri-City Dental Care, one of several Washington state dental practices that offer “spa-like” treatments.
Before the dentist gets to work, patients like Suarez can dip their hands into warm wax that softens their skin. The calming scent of lavender fills the room. Headphones play music or a TV plays as they sit in a dental chair that massages them.
The Dental Spa Concept: Turn Dread to Excitement
“When I opened the practice, I wanted to bring a good experience to every person coming in,” said Dr. Antonio Lopez-Ibarra, who owns the dental spa. “We wanted to do something where people felt comfortable in the chair.”
We wanted to do something where people felt comfortable in the chair…
The dental spa perks at Tri-City Dental Care include aromatherapy, calm music, and loads of movies to watch.
“It’s nice that when you come to a place like this, you’re not looking toward that chair, you’re looking forward to what you’re going to experience. It throws off the edge,” Suarez added.
Not Your Usual Forms to Fill Out
Among the first practices to experiment with a spa-like experience is Double Take Dental in Orem, Utah. Along with the types of things above, Double Take Dental supplies bottled water, a warm towel, a stress ball and a cool eye mask.
According to the Daily Herald, patients who come in for an exam, to have their teeth cleaned, or to have other work done fill out an “amenities card” to tailor their visit.
“Every time someone new comes in, they look at the card, and say, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ For many, we almost have to encourage them to pick amenities,” said Double Take Dental office manager Jordan Davis.
Patients are More Willing to Make the Trip
The idea for the spa-like style emerged when the practice decided it had to set itself apart from competitors. Proof of success? How about patients who travel far beyond their hometown solely for this type of service?
Larry Blocker, for example, flies to Orem from Southern California to treat an ongoing oral condition twice a year.
“I flew in last night, and I fly back out tomorrow. I came just to have this done,” he told the Daily Herald. “Flying here and flying back tells you how much I like it.”
Patty Cox drives nearly 120 miles to Double Take, a trip the 66-year-old says she’ll make “until I die.”
More Talking, Less Rushing
Double Take’s patient-first style makes the staff more relaxed as well. This is due in part to the decreased significance of time limits in appointments.
Dr. Cameron Blake has worked in a number of practices and says they all felt rushed. That kept him from getting to know his patients and answering their questions.
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“Here I can take the time to explain things to my patients without the rush to get to the next patient. I can take time to focus on their needs and concerns. I want them to have knowledge about all options available, so they can make an educated decision, and feel good about their decision and its result,” Dr. Black said.
With more and more practices popping up, you can only expect patient experience to become an even bigger priority for dentists looking to cement loyalty and brand awareness.
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The effect of pot or marijuana on oral health is unclear due in large part to its status as a controlled substance. That alone has stalled much research on the plant’s uses for years.
Science has shown that cigarettes cause a slew of potentially fatal diseases. But they have yet to show a direct link between regular pot use and any single health condition.
A recent study at Columbia University (CU), though, suggests that people who smoke marijuana often may be at an increased risk for gum disease.
Who the Team Looked At
CU researchers led by Dr. Jaffer Shariff enlisted 1,419 Americans who had not used cannabis one or more times per month throughout the last 12 months. The study also had 519 people who had used pot at least once per month in the same period.
The team took variables such as income level, alcohol use and tobacco use into account. Each participant had a dental exam to look for symptoms of gum disease. These include plaque, inflammation, bleeding, and gum recession.
Pot Use and Oral Health: Interpreting the Results
The team found that frequent pot smokers were more likely to display signs of moderate to severe gum disease than those who had abstained or those who had used pot less often in the last 12 months.
“Even controlling for other factors linked to gum disease, such as cigarette smoking, frequent recreational cannabis smokers are twice as likely as non-frequent users to have signs of periodontal disease,” said Dr. Shariff.
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The researchers aren’t sure what it is about pot use that could reduce oral health. Some ideas include the fact that smoking marijuana can lead to dry mouth, and gums need saliva in order to stay healthy. Pot users may also be less likely to seek health services of any kind.
Dr. Shariff plans to do more studies that might shed some light on marijuana and its link with oral health.
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The benefits of seeing your dentist every six months stretch far beyond simply having healthier, better-looking teeth. Oral health is directly connected to your overall wellbeing. Every time you make a dentist appointment, your chances of enjoying the future increase.
The truth is, some of life’s best rewards will most likely go to people with good oral health. Here are just five rewards, all of which are much harder to get if you don’t take care of your teeth:
1. A Longer Life
When you see your dentist often, you lower your risk for a large range of ills. If left untreated, oral bacteria causes gum disease and tooth decay. It can even enter the blood and spread plaque through the body.
Depending on your family history, this could put you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, and cancer. It can even lead to diseases like stroke, Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Here’s the thing, though. Oral bacteria are incredibly easy to eliminate. Your dentist can help you to stave off these diseases through the benefits of regular exams and cleanings. That is, as long as you manage plaque build up by keeping your regular dentist appointments.
2. Higher Income
Speaking of benefits, research has shown that people with great teeth and smiles are more likely to earn higher salaries and get more job opportunities than people who seem to view their smile as less of a priority. One study used fake job interviews and found that those who had the best smiles were viewed as more confident and skilled.
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This isn’t much of a surprise, though. It’s only natural for someone with good oral health to be seen as serious, disciplined, and concerned about his or her effect on others. So, if you want to make your dream job a reality, it can help to keep up with regular dental visits.
3. More Money in the Bank
People with good oral health tend to have lower bills as they get older. The cost of regular dental visits to prevent problems is a fraction of the cost for the type of reactive care patients who have advanced gum disease may need.
Infographic: Prevent vs. Repair – See why it pays to invest in protecting your teeth.
4. Less Stress
When you work to address oral health problems head on, there is less need to worry about the state of your teeth. People who never skip the dentist also have to worry less about certain foods or beverages causing pain or long-term damage.
With some types of oral health issues, cold or hot foods or drinks can be a problem. When you see your dentist often, she can help you to manage the effects of sugar, alcohol and caffeine, which may be the cause. Lastly, if you have a lot of stress, your dentist will know, and be able to tell you, what you can do to help.
5. Better Love Life
Not only will people who take care of their teeth stay attractive to their partners, but they will also have less difficulty finding romantic partners. In fact, a 2013 survey of nearly 5,500 single adults ages 21 and older revealed straight, white teeth to be the quality single men and women look for most when choosing a mate.
When you visit the dentist every 6 months, you won’t be as worried about your partner seeking greener pastures. And who knows? You may even be able to win over the object of your affections, regardless of your age.
How Much Brighter Could Your Future Be?
Sounds like a happy life, right? You can gain these rewards and a lot more if you simply go to the dentist and follow through with their advice and care.
Missing just one or two appointments might not seem like a big deal. But as you age, you may grow more conscious of how your teeth look and feel. So think of your long-term health and financial strength, and stick to your regular dental exams!
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