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health of your teeth and gums can indicate the state of your overall health

Updated: Friday, Jun 18,2010, 6:33:13 PM
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A healthy smile is more than cosmetic. Studies show that the health of your teeth and gums can indicate the state of your overall health. Poor dental hygiene has been linked to a higher risk of certain diseases in adults. Some people such as diabetics and pregnant women have a higher risk of developing gum disease.

In children, the problem is just as serious.  that when a child has serious tooth decay, it can affect overall health and lead to problems in eating, speaking and even cause school absences. ADA calls tooth decay the most common chronic disease in children, second only to the common cold in prevalence.

You can read more below about conditions that can impact your oral health. Also below you will find information on oral hygiene.

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

The National Oral Health Information Clearinghouse (NOHIC) defines dry mouth as the condition of not having enough saliva or spit, to keep your mouth wet. Xerostomia is the medical term for this. Chronic dry mouth can have serious side effects. It can cause difficulties in tasting, chewing, swallowing and speaking. It can lead to cracked lips and/or mouth sores. It can also increase your chance of developing dental decay and other infections in the mouth, such as thrush.

People get dry mouth when the glands in the mouth that make saliva are not working properly. Potential causes include:

    * Medications - More than 400 medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. Medicines for high blood pressure and depression often cause dry mouth.
    * Disease - Some diseases affect the salivary glands. Sjögren's syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and Parkinson's disease can all cause dry mouth.
    * Radiation therapy - The salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.
    * Chemotherapy - Drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, causing the mouth to feel dry.
    * Nerve damage - Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva.

Treatment depends on the actual cause of the dry mouth. If medications are to blame, you can ask your doctor about finding a different type of medicine. There are also medications your doctor may suggest that can help the salivary glands work better. Other things that can help include:

    * using artificial saliva or other over-the-counter dry mouth products
    * drinking plenty of fluids
    * chewing sugarless gum
    * avoiding tobacco, alcohol or spicy foods

Remember, if you have dry mouth, you need to be extra careful to keep your teeth healthy.

moreSee information on caring for your teeth and gums below.

Periodontal Disease

Gum disease is not uncommon. In fact, 80 percent of Americans have some form of gum or periodontal disease. The problem starts with plaque - invisible masses of harmful germs that live in the mouth and stick to the teeth. Plaque that is not removed can harden and form bacteria-harboring tartar. Once this happens, brushing is not enough. Only a professional cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist can remove tartar.

If the plaque or tartar is not removed, the bacteria cause inflammation of the gums that is called gingivitis. In gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen and can bleed easily. Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease that can usually be reversed with daily brushing and flossing, and regular cleaning by a dentist or dental hygienist. This form of gum disease does not include any loss of bone and tissue that hold teeth in place.

When gingivitis is not treated, it can advance to periodontitis. In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that are infected. The body's immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Bacterial toxins and the body's enzymes fighting the infection actually start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place. If not treated, the bones, gums and connective tissue that support the teeth are destroyed. The teeth may eventually become loose and have to be removed.

gum disease is more likely to be found in men and more likely to develop after the age of 30. Other things that increase risk include:

    * smoking
    * pregnancy
    * menopause
    * diabetes
    * stress
    * medications which reduce the flow of saliva
    * illnesses such as cancer or aids
    * genetic susceptibility

Good oral hygiene is essential to prevent gum disease. You should also see your dentist at once if you have persistent bad breath; gums that are red, swollen, tender or bleeding; loose or sensitive teeth. If gum disease is present, the dentist or oral hygienist will need to scrape the tartar thoroughly both above and below the gum line. Medication may be needed. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove and/or replace diseased tissue or bone.

Again, however, your best bet is prevention through good oral hygiene.

Tags: Teeth gums

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