Saturday, February 17, 2007

Healthy Mouth: Good Oral Health a Key to Overall Good Health

You think I spend all that time every night brushing, flossing, and rinsing for my health?

Well, you're right.

The verdict is in from a series of studies: There is a direct and no longer deniable link between the health of your mouth, teeth and gums and overall health. The studies link gum disease to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and one of the deadliest of diseases -- pancreatic cancer.

When you have gum disease, as I have, your mouth teems with bacteria that's found in placque, the sticky film that forms on teeth. The bacteria causes the gums to become inflamed which creates pockets from which they attack teeth and their roots, which can lead to tooth loss.

Many of us have the idea that gum disease is confined to the mouth. We think: What's the worst that can happen? I could lose my teeth. I'll miss them, but no big deal; I'll get false teeth. Problem fixed.

In fact, we now know that the health problems may only just beginning. When gum disease is severe, it can trigger inflammation throught the body. It can fuel the growth of cancer. As this illustration shows, it can invade cells in coronary arteries, leading to heart disease.

New studies, such as one at Boston University, suggest that treating gum disease lowers inflammatory markers throughout the body such as in the lining of the arteries -- the endothelium -- which produces chemicals that regulate blood flow. What this means is that treating gum disease may lower risk for heart disease.

In other words, gum disease, far from being just an oral problem, represents a significant health risk to millions of people, according to Robert Genco, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Periodontology.

According to Dr. Genco: "Periodontal disease is characterized by inflammation and bacterial infection of the gums surrounding the teeth. The bacteria that are associated with periodontal disease can travel in the bloodstream to other parts of the body, and that puts health at risk. People think of gum disease in terms of their teeth, but they don't think about the fact that gum disease is a serious infection that can release bacteria into the bloodstream. The end result could mean additional health risks for people whose health is already affected by other dieases -- or lead to serious complications like heart disease."

Bacteria in your mouth want to get into your bloodstream, which to them is a river of opportunity that can carry them to bigger and better things -- and you to death and disease. I don't want to be melodramatic here, but there is a good reason that I take antibiotics -- four capsules of amoxicillin -- one hour before a dental appointment.

I have had both knees replaced. That, together with my current gum disease, makes me especially vulnerable to my mouth bacteria going on a joyride at my expense. They automatically sense weakness and gravitate toward it with possible deadly consequences. For me, that is the knee area.

A tennis friend who had had his hips replaced some years before got careless and didn't take his antibiotics before going to the dentist. A few weeks later, he was rushed to the hospital with a massive infection in the hip area. He underwent emergency surgery and nearly died.

Gum disease puts not just your teeth at risk. It puts you at risk.

Now that I've scared the crap out of you, remember -- from the last post -- that gum disease is both preventable and curable. I didn't succeed in preventing it but I am succeeding in restoring my gums to health. I have committed to a daily oral health routine and I have stayed with it for six months now.

The pockets in my gums, though still present, are slowly tightening. But I no longer have red, puffy gums. They are pink. They don't bleed when I brush and floss and swish anti-bacterial mouthwash every night.

And I mean every night. Good oral health has to become a habit and for me, it has.

If I went to bed without doing my big 30-minute oral health routine, I'd feel like a failure. I would feel worthless. I wouldn't like myself. And, in that negative state of mind, I'd probably lie awake all night calling myself names and feeling sorry for myself.

All in all, it's a lot easier to do the oral health routine.

For simple steps to better oral health, check out: The American Academy of Periodontology has a helpful tool to help you guage your personal risk for gum disease at:

So long and keep moving.

NOTE: My novel, State Kid: Hero of Literacy is now available on Amazon and with the Nook.

Billy Stone was a foster child.

He ran away from abuse.

He went to juvenile prison.

He went up from there.

And he did it his way.

With the power of the written word. 

Amazon E-Books by George Pollock

 "State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his  real-life experiences  growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison;  "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life;  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life,"  is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? It's unheard of.
   For the Nook:

A Beautiful Story
A Long, Happy, Healthy Life
I, Cadaver
State Kid
Unlove Story