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Know Your Role and Open Your Mouth

For the most part, people hate the dreaded twice-a-year appointment with the dentist. Whether it’s cavities, gingivitis, root canals, etc., there always seems to be a risk of pain involved when you step into the dentist’s office.

Because of various reasons, including the ones listed above, many Americans don’t go to the dentist as often as they should. Unfortunately, they are the ones missing out on the numerous benefits of a dental checkup, benefits that few knew about until recently.

According to “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General,” which was commissioned in 1997 by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, signs and symptoms of life-threatening diseases appear in the mouth far before any other area of the body. Oral health professionals look for signs to conditions such as oral cancer, diabetes, eating disorders and HIV during regular checkups.

The importance of a regular checkup is significant when considering the relationship between the mouth and other parts of the body. For example, periodontal (gum) disease in the mouth has been linked to the development of serious illnesses and conditions like heart disease, respiratory ailments and pre-term, low birth-weight babies. When a primary bacteria is found in the mouth with periodontal disease, it can enter the blood stream and spread throughout the body, which can infect the heart, inflame coronary arteries, clot blood, and change blood pressure and heart rate.

About 75 percent of American adults have some sort of periodontal disease without even knowing the silent, painless infection is present. Prophylaxis, a regular, professional cleaning, is the only way to keep gum disease under control.

The following five medical conditions can be detected by a dentist before they become serious to the rest of the body.

Oral cancer - More common than leukemia, skin melanoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and cancers of the brain, liver, bone, thyroid gland, stomach, ovaries, and cervix, oral cancer is caused by lengthy tobacco and alcohol use. If caught in the early stages it can be treated 90 percent of the time, but can spread to other parts of the body with less chance of detection if not caught early.

Heart disease - Cardiovascular disease affects 85 million Americans and kills a million per year. Studies have shown that patients with gum disease are twice as likely to develop heart disease, and p. gingivalis, a primary bacteria in periodontal disease, can enter the bloodstream and cause conditions that lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Diabetes - 95 percent of Americans with diabetes have periodontal disease and those with periodontal disease have more difficulty controlling their blood sugar level. Severe periodontal disease also can increase the risk of developing diabetes.

Respiratory Ailments - Bacteria associated with periodontal disease can travel from the mouth to the respiratory system where it may aggravate or cause respiratory diseases.

Premature, low birth-weight babies - Expectant mothers with periodontal disease are seven times more likely to deliver premature, low birth-weight babies than women who don’t have the disease. Bacterial infections accelerate the production of labor-inducing fluids and can result in pre-term births.

Address: The Prudential Insurance Company of America, 751 Broad Street, Prudential Plaza, Newark, NJ 07102; (201) 802-6000.

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing