You brush, floss, and follow all your dentist’s commandments for healthy teeth and gums (kudos!). But did you know that those mouth-healthy habits may ultimately keep your heart healthy, too?
Research has found a surprising number of links between the state of your mouth and your heart. In fact, we now know that people who develop gum disease (either gingivitis, a milder form that results in inflammation and infection of the gums, or periodontitis, which develops when the inflammation and infection spread below the gum line) are nearly twice at risk for heart disease.
And in one study of 320 adults — half with heart disease — researchers found that these participants were also more likely to have gum disease, bleeding gums, and tooth loss.
What’s the connection? Researchers are still figuring that out.
Can Gum Disease Give You a Heart Attack?
“There is a very logical reason why the two may be connected,” says Peter M. Spalding, DDS, associate professor in the department of growth and development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in Lincoln. Experts are starting to understand that the underlying mechanism of cardiovascular disease is related to inflammation, he
Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders, commonly called TMJ disorders, are a group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and the muscles that control jaw movement. We don’t know for certain how many people have TMJ disorders, but some estimates suggest that more than ten million Americans are affected. The disorders appear to be more common among women than men.
What are the signs and symptoms? A variety of symptoms may be linked to TMJ disorders: Pain, particularly in the chewing muscles and/or jaw joint, is the most common. Other symptoms include
- Radiating pain in the face, jaw, or neck
- Jaw muscle stiffness
- Limited movement or locking of the jaw
- Painful clicking, popping, or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing the mouth
- A change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together
For most people, discomfort from TMJ disorders eventually goes away on its own. Simple self-care practices such as eating soft foods, using ice packs, avoiding yawning too wide and gum chewing, and doing gentle jaw-stretching exercises are often effective in easing symptoms.
If treatment is needed, it should be based on a reasonable diagnosis, conservative, reversible, and customized to your special needs. Avoid treatments that can cause
The practice of brushing your teeth hasn’t changed much since 1938, the year that the modern toothbrush was introduced. But the toothbrush itself has evolved quite a bit. Stroll through the oral health aisle at your local drugstore and you may be surprised by the number of toothbrush styles available and the claims made by manufacturers about the effectiveness of their toothbrushes.
The key, toothbrush manufacturers say, is ergonomics — the science of improving the ease and efficiency with which people use products. So-called ergonomic toothbrushes sport specially designed handles or brush heads to help get teeth cleaner.
Whether manual or electric, these ergonomic toothbrush designs are marketed with the promise that their shape can help you perfect the proper brushing angle and feel more comfortable during the brushing process. Some are even said to brush teeth and massage gums simultaneously — and last much longer than run-of-the-mill toothbrushes.
Do these promises hold up? According to dentist Catrise Austin, DDS, of VIP Smiles in New York City, the handles of ergonomic toothbrushes are often lighter and include grips to help people hold their brushes more easily. The heads serve different functions, too — the bristles on some models form a convex shape to
Awareness of the oral-health conditions you are likely to face at different stages of life can help you stay a step ahead of potential dental problems, and build a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Dental Health: Pregnancy and Children
Expectant mothers can give children a head start by eating an array of healthy foods and taking calcium supplements while pregnant. Also, taking folic-acid supplements decreases the risk of a baby being born with a cleft lip and palate. After the baby’s birth, parents should wipe the infant’s gums with a soft, damp cloth after feedings, as this helps prevent the buildup of bacteria. When teeth come in, typically at six months old, parents can use a soft children’s toothbrush twice a day to clean the teeth and gum line, where decay starts.
Dr. Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, tells parents there is a risk for tooth decay even in children as young as nine months. “Parents need to pay attention to baby teeth — they aren’t disposable,” says Dr. Hayes, who also recommends parents brush their children’s teeth until they are six years old. “This instills good habits and a routine.” Hayes notes that
Healthy mouth, healthy body: The link between them may surprise you.
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The condition of your mouth is closely tied to your overall health. Find out how oral health is linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and more.
Taking care of your teeth isn’t just about having a nice smile and pleasant breath. Recent research has found a number of links between oral health and overall health. While in many cases, the nature of this link still isn’t clear — researchers have yet to conclude whether the connections are causal or correlative — what is certain is that the condition of your mouth is closely tied to your overall physical health.
Oral Health and Diabetes
Doctors have known for years that type 2 diabetics have an increased incidence of periodontitis, or gum disease. In July 2008 the connection was further highlighted: Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health followed 9,296 nondiabetic participants, measuring their level of periodontic bacteria over the course of 20 years. “We found that people who had higher levels of periodontal disease had a twofold risk of developing type 2 diabetes over
Most of us take our teeth for granted … until something goes wrong. Our teeth help us chew and digest food, play an important role in speech, and impact our health overall. And by brushing up on your dental health knowledge, you’ll be taking the first step toward giving your teeth the attention they deserve.
How much do you know about your pearly whites?
The Development of Teeth
Humans have two sets of teeth, primary (or baby) teeth and then permanent teeth, which develop in stages. Although the timing is different, the development of each of these sets of teeth is similar. Here are some facts about how people develop teeth:
Teeth tend to erupt in parallel, meaning that the top molar on your left side should grow in at about the same time as the top molar on the right.
Tooth development begins long before your first tooth becomes visible. For example, a baby’s first tooth appears at around six months of age, but development of those teeth actually begins during the early second trimester of pregnancy.
The crown of a tooth forms first, while the roots continue to develop even after the tooth has erupted.
The 20 primary teeth are in place
Wish you had close-to-perfect pearly whites? (Who doesn’t!) Then make all seven of these dental-health musts a part of your daily routine.
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It’s probably no surprise that a bright, white smile can make you appear younger and more attractive. In fact, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, a whopping 96 percent of respondents surveyed believe an attractive smile makes a person more appealing.
But good dental health goes beyond the way you look. The mouth is the gateway to the body, which means the state of your teeth and gums affects your overall health. By following these steps to a better smile, you’ll be taking important strides for the rest of your body, too.
1. Brush regularly. Brushing is the cornerstone of dental hygiene. It removes food particles that bacteria feed on, cleans teeth, and freshens breath. A toothpaste with fluoride helps strengthen teeth, but you must brush for at least two minutes to allow it to do its work, says Jonathan Abenaim, DDS, a dentist in private practice in Hawthorne, N.J. Many electric toothbrushes have a built-in two-minute timer, which can make brushing
How do electric toothbrushes stand up against good old-fashioned manual brushing? We went to the experts to find out.
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The electric toothbrush has become very popular in recent years — some even say it provides superior dental care. But how does it actually compare to manual brushing?
“The idea of a toothbrush is to remove plaque and to stimulate the gums,” explains John Ictech-Cassis, DDS, DMD, clinical associate professor at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. “Most toothbrushes will keep the teeth clean if you know how to use them.”
Manual Toothbrushes: A Classic Route to Good Dental Care
“There are many advantages to the manual toothbrush,” says Dr. Ictech-Cassis. “We’ve been using this toothbrush for many years. It has a good track record.” Advantages include:
Cost and availability. “It’s inexpensive and accessible,” says Ictech-Cassis. “This is the toothbrush that the majority of dentists give away.” Electric toothbrushes may simply be too expensive for many people, so it’s nice to know that you can do a great job brushing with a manual toothbrush.
Easy to travel with. “It’s easy to take a manual toothbrush with you
Cleaning the spaces between your teeth and along your gums with dental floss is as important to your oral health as cleaning your teeth with a toothbrush. Just like you brush your teeth every day, flossing should be part of your daily routine.
To better understand why flossing is so important, Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a former clinical instructor at Boston University Dental School, compares it to cleaning your home: “You cannot effectively vacuum a house with only one attachment,” he says. “You need other attachments to get into the nooks and crannies. That’s what floss does.”
The Benefits of Flossing to Your Oral Health
There are many benefits to regularly flossing your teeth. Dental floss can help clear food debris and plaque from the spaces between your teeth, where your toothbrush can’t reach. As a result, flossing helps prevent gum or periodontal diseases, tooth decay, and bad breath.
There are certain things to keep in mind to get the most out of flossing:
Use dental floss or an interdental cleaner every day.
Floss at least once a day.
Be gentle when using dental floss so you avoid damaging gum tissue.
If long threads of regular dental
Toothpaste is not always paste. It can be a gel, powder, or paste that you brush onto your teeth and gums to help get rid of accumulating plaque and improve your oral health. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), toothpaste is important to oral health because it helps to remove plaque and its bacterial buildup on teeth and fights off periodontal (gum) disease. Most toothpaste also contains fluoride, which bolsters tooth enamel and fights tooth decay.
What’s in Toothpaste?
The exact composition of different toothpastes may vary slightly depending on the benefits being touted by the particular brand (such as whitening teeth or reducing gum inflammation). In general, toothpastes include the following ingredients:
Gentle abrasives, such as magnesium carbonate, dehydrated silica gels, calcium carbonate, hydrated aluminum oxides, and phosphate salts.
Glycerol, sorbitol, or other so-called “humectants,” substances that keep the toothpaste from drying out.
Thickeners like seaweed or mineral colloids, synthetic cellulose, or natural gum to give the toothpaste a homogeneous appearance and texture.
Fluoride to help make tooth enamel stronger and more resistant to decay.
Flavoring agents that do not cause tooth decay, such as saccharin.
Detergents, such as sodium lauryl sarcosinate, to make the toothpaste foamy.
How to Pick the Right
Anti-plaque, anti-gingivitis, alcohol-free — your pharmacy’s oral health section has dozens of mouth rinse products to choose from, all promising to protect your teeth and gums and freshen your breath.
But how can you know which claims are true? And do you really need to use a mouth rinse — or is good brushing and flossing enough?
“There are three major categories [of mouth rinses], from a consumer perspective,” says Michelle Henshaw, DDS, MPH and assistant dean for community partnerships and extramural affairs at Boston University, Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. These include mouth rinse products that contain fluoride, anti-gingivitis and anti-plaque mouth rinses, and cosmetic mouth rinse products. Some of these mouth rinses are available over-the-counter; others will require a prescription.
Here’s what you should know when shopping for a mouth rinse.
Fluoride-Containing Mouth Rinses
Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay by helping your body strengthen enamel — the white, harder-than-bone substance that covers teeth. But most people will not require fluoride-containing mouth rinses, says Dr. Henshaw. “You pretty much get that from your fluoridated toothpaste,” she says. But, there are some exceptions.
“People with xerostomia (abnormal dryness of the mouth) might use this kind of mouth rinse, and there are other reasons, like
Brushing your teeth regularly is key to maintaining healthy teeth and gums and preventing periodontal (gum) diseases, but it’s also important to make sure you choose the right toothbrush for your teeth and use proper brushing techniques. Done correctly, brushing your teeth at least twice a day — in the morning and in the evening before going to bed, for at least three minutes — can help ensure long-term dental health.
“It takes time to brush effectively,” says Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a former clinical instructor at Boston University Dental School. “Most people just rush through it.” Dr. Price suggests setting a timer for three minutes and brushing and flossing until the time runs out.
How to Choose a Toothbrush
Although some ancient civilizations used frayed twigs to clean their teeth, these days toothbrushes come in a variety of manual and powered forms. And the first step to taking good care of your mouth is to choose a toothbrush that’s right for you.
“Choose a brush that has the ADA seal on the box to be sure the bristles are not too hard,” says Price, who is retired from a 35-year dental practice in Newton, Mass.
In addition to affecting your overall health, tobacco use and smoking can cause a number of oral health issues, ranging from oral cancer to discolored teeth.
“You can get yellow teeth [and] a yellow tongue,” says Thomas Kilgore, DMD, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery and associate dean at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. “You see a lot of staining on the tongue.”
Smoking and tobacco use can lead to more serious oral health complications as well, including gum disease and oral cancer.
Smoking and Oral Cancer
“The most serious issue is mouth cancer,” Dr. Kilgore says. “It’s hard to say what percentage of people who smoke will get mouth cancer, but the death rate of those who do get it is high — between 40 and 50 percent of all cases, and that hasn’t changed over the last few decades.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that 90 percent of people with oral cancer (cancer affecting the lips, tongue, throat, and mouth) have used tobacco in some form. Likewise, the risk of oral cancer is six times higher among smokers relative to non-smokers. Your individual risk of oral cancer depends on how long you’ve been using tobacco — the longer
How well you care for your teeth and gums has a powerful effect on your overall health. Neglecting your oral health lead to more than just sore teeth and bad breath — it can open the door to all sorts of health problems, including some pretty nasty diseases like oral cancer. Researchers have found possible connections between gum problems and heart disease, bacterial pneumonia, stroke, and even problem pregnancies.
“You cannot be healthy with an unhealthy mouth any more than one can be healthy with an infected foot,” says Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association (ADA) and a former clinical instructor at the Boston University Dental School.
The Role of Diet and Lifestyle in Oral Health
A number of dietary habits and lifestyle factors can affect oral health, including:
Sugar consumption. “Having a sugar-laden diet will contribute to tooth decay and gum problems, as the bacteria in the mouth thrive in this environment,” producing tooth and gum-destroying enzymes and acids, says Dr. Price, who retired after 35 years as a dentist in Newton, Mass.
Smoking. Dental care experts have long known that smoking cigarettes and cigars and using tobacco products can cause periodontal disease (gum disease), tooth decay, and oral cancer.
Taking care of your teeth at home can help you maintain your dental health and prevent periodontal, or gum, disease from developing.
Richard H. Price, DMD, spokesperson for the American Dental Association and a former clinical instructor at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, says regular home care should include daily brushing and flossing. “My advice is to brush thoroughly, at least twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening before going to bed,” says Dr. Price. “Be sure to floss at least once a day. I do it after every meal when I can.” Proper dental care at home, combined with seeing your dentist regularly, is your ticket to good dental health, says Price, who is retired from a 35-year private group dental practice in Newton, Mass.
Dental Health at Home
“Use products that have the ADA (American Dental Association) seal,” says Price. “This means that the products — toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, etc. — are safe to use as directed and will keep your mouth healthy — no gum disease, no cavities.”
Here are some basic principles to follow:
Spend at least three minutes brushing your teeth two times a day. Use a timer if you
Your mouth is made up of more than just teeth, so good oral health goes beyond simply brushing and flossing. In addition to your teeth, your mouth is made up of gums, oral mucosa, the upper and lower jaw, the tongue, salivary glands, the uvula, and the frenulum. All of these structures play an important role when it comes to good dental health and are routinely examined when you receive dental care.
The Oral Mucosa
When you open your mouth and look in the mirror, everything that isn’t a tooth is covered by a protective lining called the oral mucosa, which is a mucous membrane similar to the mucous membranes that line your nostrils and inner ears.
The oral mucosa plays an essential role in maintaining your oral health, as well as your overall health, by defending your body from germs and other irritants that enter your mouth. A tough substance called keratin, also found in your fingernails and hair, helps make the oral mucosa resistant to injury.
Your gums are the pinkish tissue that surrounds and supports your teeth. Also covered by oral mucosa, gums play a critical role in your oral health. Healthy gums are firm, cover the entire root of