Need a good reason to pay better attention to your mouth? Untreated gum disease can lead to problems with your heart and blood vessels. Some experts believe gum disease causes inflammation, which can contribute to clogged arteries. And a study funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research found that in 657 older adults with certain bacteria in their mouths that cause periodontal (gum) disease, they also had thickened carotid arteries. This was a strong predictor for heart disease and stroke. Two hundred million Americans have some form of gum disease.
The chronic inflammation of gum disease may also affect your cholesterol levels. A recent study in the Southern Medical Journal revealed that treatment for gum disease significantly lowered patients’ cholesterol levels. In contrast, a pregnant woman with untreated gum disease is more likely to deliver her baby prematurely.
Fortunately, you can keep your mouth healthy by reducing plaque, the culprit in both cavities and gum disease. This sticky film of bacteria coats your teeth. Here’s how to attack plaque:
Limit snacks between meals, especially sugary or starchy ones.
If you smoke, quit the habit.
Gently brush your teeth at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line.
Floss once a day.
Visit your dentist regularly.
Gently push your toothbrush back and forth, covering the outsides and insides of your teeth, as well as the chewing surfaces. Then brush your tongue to remove bacteria and freshen your breath. After brushing, rinse your toothbrush and store it upright. Buy a new brush every three or four months or sooner if the bristles look worn.
Using a length of about 18 inches of floss, wind it around one of your middle fingers, and wind the rest around the middle finger of your other hand. You’ll spool the used floss onto this finger as you go.
Now, holding the floss tightly between your thumbs and index fingers, gently guide it between your teeth. At the gum line, curve the floss into a C shape tightly against one tooth. Gently move the floss up and down away from the gum. Be sure to tell your dentist if brushing or flossing hurts or makes your gums bleed.
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“Study Finds Direct Association Between Cardiovascular Disease and Periodontal Bacteria.” February 7, 2005. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. www.nidcr.nih.gov/Research/ResearchResults/NewsReleases/ArchivedNewsReleases/NRY2005/PR02072005.htm.Accessed 2013.
“Beneficial Effects of Periodontal Treatment on Metabolic Control of Hypercholesterolemia.” Southern Medical Journal. July 2007, vol. 100, no. 7,
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