News and Tribune

August 20, 2013

Dental health can affect overall health

By CHRIS MORRIS
chris.morris@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY —

Our mouths can get us into trouble by not saying anything. 

Our teeth and the inside of our mouths can affect our entire health — and it may not have anything to do with how many calories or fat grams we consume. It’s about properly taking care of our teeth to prevent periodontal disease which can cause gum issues and bone loss.

“As professionals we understand how closely the two [overall health and teeth] are linked. Our job is to educate our patients that they are related,” said Dr. Sara Denzinger-Rowe, who operates Denzinger Family Dentistry at 5404 Charlestown Road in New Albany. “If something is going on in the mouth that is very important.”

Every time a patient comes in for a checkup, Denzinger-Rowe and her partner, Dr. Tracy Guilford, complete a cancer screening and examine the mouth and teeth for not only tooth decay, but for other warning signs of possible health issues.

“Some patients come to us twice a year but don’t see their physicians. We can examine the mouth and then point them in the right direction if we see something,” Guilford said.

One of the main culprits to the health of both teeth and body is periodontal disease. The mouth is full of bacteria which can cause gum issues, plaque and tartar buildup on teeth. There is also a relationship between periodontal disease and heart disease, if there is excessive plaque buildup. Signs of diabetes can also show up in an examination of the mouth according to Denzinger-Rowe.

“We always ask about family history,” she said. “Periodontal disease can raise blood sugar and affects the support of your teeth and overall bone health. It’s a quiet disease and you don’t know something is going on until you develop symptoms.”

Symptoms of gum disease according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research  include bad breath that won’t go away, red or swollen gums, painful chewing, loose or sensitive teeth and receding gums.

Risk factors include smoking, hormonal changes, diabetes, genetics and of course, not taking proper care of your teeth.

“We recommend our patients come in every six months. That way we can stop the disease if we catch it early,” Denzinger-Rowe said.

She said brushing your teeth, flossing and using Listerine are the best ways to prevent periodontal disease. That may sound simple enough, but many ignore the preventative steps.

“Very few people floss,” Denzinger-Rowe said. “That is one of the most important things you can do. It is really important to get in the habit of doing those three things and see a dentist regularly.”

Guilford said statistics show men with periodontal disease are more likely to get kidney cancer then men without the disease.

Another issue Denzinger-Rowe and Guilford deal with is sleep apnea. Denzinger-Rowe said a large percentage of people have some form of sleep apnea and many of her patients have trouble sleeping with the C-Pack machine which is a common treatment. She said she can make an appropriate appliance for the mouth to help her patients receive proper oxygen while sleeping and keep them from grinding their teeth.

The science of dentistry has definitely evolved.

“The face of dentistry has changed,” Denzinger-Rowe said. “We do x-rays where we see sinuses or other issues that may be going on with our patients. We want our patients to be healthy and we are in a unique position to see problems.”

“We play more of an overall health care role now,” Guilford said.

With the change in dentistry, Denzinger-Rowe said treatment has also improved for the patients.

“A lot of patients have a true fear of going to the dentist. Something may have happened to them when they were younger,” she said. “We always talk to the patient ... it’s easier and better for them now. We tell them that it will be OK and in the long run be better for them.”

Not only is a trip to the dentist a good idea for the health of your teeth and mouth, but could also be life saving. Both Denzinger-Rowe and Guilford continue their training and professional development to help become more aware of health issues related to gum disease.

“Dentistry is more comprehensive. It’s not just about the 32 teeth in your mouth,” Denzinger-Rowe said. “It is important for us to do everything possible to educate ourselves. We believe our patients deserve it. Taking better care of them is what it’s all about.”