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Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. Headshot

Mouth Health: How Bad Teeth Can Affect Your Body

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About 10 years ago, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in western Michigan, my grandfather (Ernie) called me with a frantic tone in his voice , "Tommy... I need you to yank my tooth!" Up until this moment, my grandfather had avoided dentistry for longer than he could remember.

About an hour later, I met my grandfather at my dental office - at that time I was practicing in Grandville Michigan. Sure enough, Ernie had a large dental infection that could only be cured with cold steel and sunshine (an extraction). During the procedure, my grandfather could barely stop talking long enough to allow me to work in his mouth.

The most peculiar thing my grandfather said - and it has stuck with me since - Ernie was bragging about how healthy he was at 75; his medical doctor had just done a complete physical and he was perfect! Like a teenager! "Nothing wrong in there Ernie" is what the doctor said to my grandfather.

Need I point out the obvious?

My grandfather was bragging about how healthy he was - while I'm extracting a severely infected molar, a tooth that has probably been harboring millions of infectious, inflammation-inducing bacteria - for probably 20 years!

Unfortunately this is common. Physicians today have very little dental knowledge. As we learn more and more about the inflammation link to many chronic and auto-immune diseases, we can no longer be ignorant to the cesspool of harmful bacteria that may be residing in our gums, tonsils, Eustachian tubes, tongue, teeth, and sinuses. The list goes on and on. Our internal body is not as self-cleansing as we once believed it to be.

Picture this if you will: a large wooden splinter the size of your front tooth is stuck in the bottom of your foot. You stepped on it last week. It's HUGE. This splinter, hurts daily, gives off an odor, is extremely inflamed and bleeds whenever you touch it.

What would you do? If you are anything like me (OCD), I would have been in the emergency room the same day I stepped on it!!

This example is very similar to a periodontally infected tooth -- that is allowed to stay in our mouth, untreated, long term, as a bacterial breeding ground and source of constant, chronic infection.

So my grandfather, ACTUALLY, may not have been as healthy as perceived on the surface. Research has shown chronic dental infections can be a source of inflammation that contributes to cardiovascular disease, stroke, and a number of other related diseases. My grandfather had a stroke a few years after I extracted that infected molar. I can only speculate the possible direct effects his dentition had on his overall health.

Scientific studies have been published in the Journal of Internal Medicine and the British Medical Journal which have established an association between gum disease (periodontitis) and cardiovascular disease. While the exact mechanism which links gum disease and cardiovascular disease has not been firmly established, the association between the two disease entities is cause for concern. In our health-conscious society, it is being recommended that patients with cardiovascular disease and especially those with heart valve deficiencies and/or replacements be monitored more thoroughly regarding their periodontal status.

The initial research was done in Finland which presented evidence in 1989 that even when conventional risk factors for strokes and heart attacks were taken into account, dental infections were associated with strokes and heart attacks. Another study examining 9,760 men during a period spanning 1971-1987, confirmed the conclusions of the Finnish study which linked coronary artery disease and gum disease. The most noteworthy finding was that gum disease and poor oral hygiene are stronger indicators of risk of total mortality than were coronary artery disease.

This is my first of many BLOGs. My goal is to enlighten my readers about the many aspects of mouth health and how it affects other systems in our body, our confidence, self-image, our ability to eat with pleasure, interact socially, sleep comfortably, and many other areas of our lives that we take for granted.

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