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Does Brushing and Flossing Keep the Doctor Away?

You know the importance of brushing and flossing to keep the dentist away-but can good oral hygiene prevent other illnesses as well?  Absolutely.  If your gums are swollen, red, inflamed or bleeding, you may have periodontal disease-a condition that not only causes to you to lose teeth, but may even increase your risk of heart attacks and stroke or complicate diabetes.

Periodontal disease is caused by bacteria that just LOVE to breed in plaque, the sticky stuff between your teeth that accumulates around the gums.  If too much gathers, gingivitis-an inflammation of the gums-is the result.  This condition affects nearly 4 out of every 10 adult Americans. 

Dental check-ups and professional cleaning is recommended every 6 months.  If this is overlooked and gingivits spreads, your gums will start to pull away from your teeth and form pockets which can collect more debris, breed more bacteria, accelerate inflammation and lead to infection or periodontitis.  Eventually, the teeth can fall out or need to be pulled out as a result.

Extra bad news for women is that various hormonal changes-such as those in pregnancy-can make gums more sensitive to bacteria.  Ironically, women with gum disease may be more likely to have preterm or low birth-weight babies.  Birth control pills can also increase gum sensitivity.  But estrogen replacement therapy after menopause may dampen the effects of inflammation caused by periodontal bacteria.  Menopausal women who do not take estrogen replacement are also more likely to develop osteoporosis-which can also contribute to tooth loss.  As with many other conditions, smokers are at the greatest risk for gum disease.

Created: 6/27/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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