By Philip R. Lepor, D.D.S.
Could good oral hygiene and regular dental cleanings help prevent heart attack, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimerâ€™s disease, as well as pancreatic, colon, and oral cancers? The latest research seems to say â€œyesâ€! We all remember, years ago, our dentists telling us that good dental health is necessary for good general health. It certainly seemed to make sense. But if you were to ask your dentist exactly how that worked and what the connections were between dental and general health, he/she would not have been able to answer you. Though it made good common sense, the research was not available to provide the answer.
Some of the latest research seems to provide us with the information to make that connection. It also points to the importance of good dental health, proper oral hygiene and regular dental examinations and cleanings as ways of significantly reducing the chances of the ailments noted above.
One study done at the State University of New York showed that subjects under 55 years of age who had periodontal disease showed a two to four times greater risk of having a heart attack, regardless of tobacco use. A study at Harvard University showed that men with periodontal disease had a 33 percent higher risk of developing ischemic stroke. A study of identical twins in Sweden showed that twins having periodontal disease earlier in life were four times more likely to develop Alzheimerâ€™s. Another recent study at Harvard shows that men with gum disease were 63 percent more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
Research now is uncovering the biochemical mechanisms connecting gum disease and increased risk of a number of serious health problems. We will discuss the mechanisms in a future article.
What is important to know is the great importance of maintaining good dental hygiene and regular dental care even when elderly and living at an assisted living residence or a skilled nursing facility. Family members should help facilitate regular visits to their dentist(s) of choice or check to see if their facility has a dentist who provides on-site dental care. Residents who have natural teeth should be seen at least every six months. Those with dentures should be checked annually to check for oral lesions and to ensure proper fit for comfort and safe nutrition.
Good oral hygiene, routine dental visits, and proper dental care are not only essential for comfort, self confidence, and nutrition, but are also significant components in long term maintenance of good health.
Dr. Lepor, director of Dentist House Call Service, provides on-site dentistry for seniors with special needs in San Diego County. Dr. Lepor graduated from UCLA School of Dentistry (1974). He completed his residency at VA Hospital, Palo Alto (associated with Stanford University), University of California School of dentistry in San Francisco, and University of the Pacific). For inquiries, he can be contacted at (619)286-8994 or via his website at www.dentisthousecallservice.com.