A while ago my grandson, Remy, asked if I had false teeth. Huh? He must have heard something about old folks and teeth. I put that kid straight right away! I, indeed, have my own teeth. However, because I have more luck than brains, I admit it may just be genetic. My roots are so long, whenever I change dentists and they see my x-ray, they comment and chuckle about my small teeth and huge, long roots. For all I know, they reach my toes! I’ll probably never lose my pearly whites.
I’m feeling lucky right now. I had a call from a friend who lost all her teeth some years ago due to gum disease. She also suffered several devastating strokes, which I had attributed to her smoking. What disturbed her most was being told, too late, that had her gums been looked after properly, it wouldn’t have happened. (She had seen a dentist regularly that she liked and felt betrayed.)
She subsequently went through a time-consuming, expensive and painful process of getting implants. (This procedure may have
improved since.) Later her implants became infected and had to be removed. With her medical history, she was advised to stick to ordinary dentures.
With a mouthful of fillings and crowns of my own when I was still young, I was sure I’d lose my teeth early. “Don’t worry,” my dentist said, “we can always
fix them — just take care of your gums.” The man was right and I’m grateful to the dentists and periodontists who have educated me and taken care of my mouth throughout my adult life.
Recently I read that gum disease may be connected to strokes and heart disease. Could it be? Was smoking not the only risk my friend dealt with? It is impossible for me to make such an assumption, still I wondered, so asked my periodontist.
“Periodontal disease,’ he explained, ‘is a bacterial infection of the gums, bone and attachment fibers that support teeth and hold them in the jaw. The bacteria are found in dental plaque, a sticky, colorless film that forms on teeth. Toxins produced by the bacteria irritate the gums and cause infection. If untreated, it can result in bad breath, bleeding gums and eventually, tooth loss. Almost half of all adults have some form of periodontal disease and may not know it.
“Since periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, bacteria can enter the blood stream and travel to major organs, beginning new infections. The heart is one of the most susceptible organs. Thus, theories explain the link between periodontal disease and heart disease — oral bacteria can affect the heart when they enter the blood stream.
“Researchers have found people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease than those without. It has also been linked to other health problems, including respiratory diseases, strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis and premature and underweight births. A new study of fat deposits in the carotid arteries of stroke sufferers shows that 70% contain bacteria, and 40% comes from the mouth.”
Wow! I had no idea there was so much more at stake. I’ll go brush my teeth. Okay, I’m brushing, I’m brushing….