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Dental Detective: Five Surprising Health Conditions Your Dentist Can Spot Early

You may have heard in the past that your optometrist is a great first line of defense against diseases that are more successfully treated when identified early. But did you know that regular visits to your dentist can be just as important when it comes to screening for these potentially life threatening conditions?

Your mouth is one of the major gateways to your body, and warning signs and symptoms can often show up there first. To show you what we mean, today we’re looking at a few conditions and warning signs that your dentist might pick up on before anyone else.

1. Heart Disease

Wondering what one of the most serious conditions that your dentist might be the first to spot is? Heart disease. Inflamed gums and loose teeth can be a big red flag when it comes to identifying issues with your ticker, and according to the American Heart Association, individuals that receive biannual dental checkups and cleanings are 24% less likely to have a heart attack and have a 14% lower risk of suffering from a stroke.

Why? Well, for starters, conditions like periodontitis can lead to bacteria traveling from your mouth to your heart, contributing to coronary heart disease. Bacteria can also lead to increased plaque build-up in your arteries and promote the formation of deadly blood clots. One study showed that individuals with inflamed or infected pockets around their gums were over 50% more likely to suffer a heart attack.

2. Dementia

Poor oral health isn’t just a warning sign for dementia – it can be a factor in causing it! Just like your heart, bacteria causing an infection in your mouth can make its way throughout your body, including causing inflammation in your brain. The forgetfulness and departure from daily routines caused by dementia only serve to make the problem worse, leading to a decline in oral and overall health.

3. Diabetes

One of the most common health issues for diabetics? Gum disease. Bleeding or inflamed gums and loose teeth are a big warning that an individual might be diabetic. The problem is compounded by the fact that another common issue with diabetes is a slower healing time, leading to chronic issues.

4. Eating Disorders

It’s common for people with anorexia or bulimia to attempt to hide their condition – but dentists can be one of the first to spot the warning signs of an eating disorder. One of the major red flags is loose teeth and bleeding gums, which can be caused by poor nutrition.

Additionally, erosion on the insides of the teeth may be a sign of forced vomiting in a bulimic person, since stomach acid wears away at the enamel and makes teeth more sensitive.

5. Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Significant erosion on the enamel from the teeth, especially on the molars, may be a red flag for Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease, or GERD. This condition is similar to common acid reflux but is especially prominent at night, which means you may not even realize you’re suffering from it.

GERD, however, isn’t just heartburn – chronic reflux can also erode the lining of your esophagus, leading to permanent damage and even increasing your risk of esophageal cancer. But with regular dental screenings, the warning signs of GERD can be identified and treatment can be sought early.

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Brushes and Bristles: Choosing the Right Toothbrush

It’s a common scene – you walk into the oral care aisle at the department or grocery store, and you’re overwhelmed by the selection of toothbrushes. Manual or powered, hard or soft bristles, long or short handle… the variety can be dizzying and leave you confused about what’s best for you.

The short answer is… there is no right answer for everyone! A lot of your toothbrush selection should involve finding something that is comfortable for you – something that doesn’t irritate your mouth, cause you pain, and leaves you feeling like all of your teeth have been thoroughly cleaned. And once you find something you like, try to stick with it. But in order to get there, you may have some important questions, and today we’re going to try to answer them.

What Type Of Bristles Should I Get?

The first stop for this question is your dentist – they know your mouth better than almost anyone, and can make a great recommendation on whether you should be using soft, medium, or firm/hard bristles. Additionally, a lot of this choice rests on the sensitivity of your gums. You definitely don’t want a brush that’s going to hurt your mouth and cause you to avoid brushing your teeth.

That said, many dental professionals agree that soft-bristled, small-headed brushes are best for keeping your mouth free of plaque and bacteria, because they can cover those hard to reach places and won’t irritate most peoples’ gums.

Should I Use A Powered Or Manual Brush?

Manual brushing is a classic, and it’s also the most affordable kind of toothbrush available. Your dentist most likely gives you a new manual brush after every cleaning, and you can replace them cheaply and easily at any grocery or department store.

That said, powered toothbrushes can be a big step up when it comes to keeping your mouth clean, because the electronic motor can agitate the brush more quickly than you can on your own. Additionally, powered toothbrushes are a great alternative for individuals that have difficulty brushing, such as in cases of limited dexterity or fine motor skills.

How Often Should I Replace My Toothbrush?

No matter what kind of toothbrush you use, it has one job – to keep your mouth clean and free of harmful bacteria. Over time, the bristles on your brush will wear down and collect bacteria from the air in your home. A worn-out brush won’t do as good of a job at cleaning your teeth, so a general rule of thumb is to replace your brush every three months or when it shows noticeable wear, whichever comes first.

Additionally, it’s important to note that any time you are sick – with a cold, the flu, etc. – you should replace your toothbrush immediately. Otherwise, you may be at risk for reinfection, since your brush may collect germs while you’re feeling under the weather.

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Biannual Checkups: Four Crucial Reasons Not To Miss Yours

Let’s face it. Most people don’t love going to their biannual checkup at the dentist every six months. Whether you have a tight schedule or dental anxiety, getting these regular checkups done can be all too easy to justify skipping.

That said, your regular dental checkup is one of the most important health habits you can have. Routine cleanings, preventive care, and early detection for numerous problems can all make skipping these appointments a lot more expensive in the long run, and can pose a risk to your health if a problem goes overlooked. What do we mean? Let’s take a look:

1. Plaque, Tartar and Cavities

First things first – let’s cover the basics. At every checkup, your dentist (or dental hygienist) will do a thorough examination and cleaning of your teeth. If you brush and floss regularly, they may not uncover much – but chances are still good that they’ll clean up some hard to reach spots that need a little extra attention.

In the long run, having your teeth cleaned regularly is far easier (and cheaper) than getting fillings or other dental work done. Paying the dentist a visit every six months can help rid your mouth of harmful plaque that can erode your teeth, causing cavities or worse. Even if you do end up with cavities, getting them treated sooner rather than later is always your best bet.

2. Oral Cancer Detection

Cancer is serious, and the oral variety is no exception. Thankfully, unlike some types of cancer, oral cancer is usually treatable – especially if it’s caught early! Your dentist and their staff are highly trained experts when it comes to spotting the warning signs and symptoms of oral cancer. And recognizing oral cancer early on is critical to successful treatment, so while you may not notice any of the red flags that indicate the presence of cancer, your dentist likely will.

3. Gum Disease

You’ve probably heard of gingivitis, even if it was only during a TV commercial. But gingivitis – an infection of the gums – is pretty serious. Just like tooth decay, gum disease is caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar, which cause the gum to pull away from the tooth and become inflamed or infected. As the infection advances, the gum tissue pulls further away from the teeth and breaks down, sometimes leading to permanent damage. Treatment of gum disease is expensive and time consuming, and can be avoided with regular dental visits.

4. Head Check

In addition to all of the attention they’ll pay to your teeth, your dentist is going to check a lot more than just what’s on the surface. They’ll likely want to do x-rays to look for any problems beneath the surface, such as impacted teeth, bone decay, swelling, cysts or tumors. An experienced dentist will also check your head, neck and lymph nodes for any swelling or other abnormalities. Discovering warning signs in a routine checkup can lead to early detection of a potentially major issue and give you the opportunity to seek early treatment, addressing the problem before it becomes serious.

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Four All-Natural Ways to Whiten Your Teeth At Home

You’ve spent years building up the habits – brushing and flossing are just a natural part of your morning and evening routines. You visit the dentist regularly and have perfect teeth – straight, cavity-free, and healthy. And yet when you flash those pearly whites… they’re not exactly pearly or white.

Your teeth can be strong and healthy, and still be an off-white color. But don’t fret – if having a gleaming white smile is important to you, there are some chemical-free options available to help boost your smile’s glow.

1. Snack Smart

Food choices can have a big impact on your overall oral health, but when it comes to whitening, there’s one food group that you should definitely eat more of – fruits! In addition to being healthy and delicious, fruits boast natural acids that oxidize the stains on your teeth, leaving them sparkly clean. Your best bets are common choices like strawberries, apples, pears and oranges. Stay away from lemons, since their acid content is actually too high and can cause damage to the enamel of your teeth if eaten in large quantities.

2. It’s Electric!

We know – you’ve been using the same brand of manual toothbrush for your entire life and you can’t even imagine changing now! But did you know that electric toothbrushes are specifically designed with a motor powerful enough to break up stains that manual brushing can’t? If you’ve been holding out on switching to an electric toothbrush, it may be worth a shot to get those teeth clean and bright!

3. All Chewed Up

Those gum commercials might seem too good to be true, but sugarfree gum actually can have a positive effect on your oral health! Chewy foods like gum, raisins, or fruit leather all take a little more effort to eat and stimulate your mouth to produce more saliva, which acts like a natural mouthwash as it helps to wash away stains and leftover food particles.

4. Make Your Own Paste

Does your toothpaste contain baking soda? If so, that’s because baking soda is a very powerful whitening agent! But if you’re still looking to up the ante, it’s easy to make your own whitening solution with the same baking soda that’s sitting in your pantry – just mix a tablespoon of baking soda with a few drops of hydrogen peroxide and spread the mixture on your teeth. Give it a few moments to work, then rinse and spit. Just remember, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide can damage your enamel and gums if overused, so only put this tip to work once in a while.

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Comprehensive Dentistry Is The Only Way I Practice!

Comprehensive Dentistry is a standard of care that every patient should receive and is a principal I have practiced for more than 20 years. More than just an assessment of ones dental health, it is a sequential approach to treatment that involves many factors one of which is understanding your patients medical history before determining treatment options. Likewise, what most patients don’t understand is that your mouth is the gateway to your body and you cannot properly assess your overall health without understanding your current dental condition.

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What Shape Are Your Teeth In?

When I was a dental student, I was once given an assignment to create a tooth out of a block of wax. I spent days refining my creation, carving what I believed looked like an anatomically shaped tooth. I was happy with the finished result; however the instructor was less than pleased with my effort. Having looked at the work of my peers, it was at least encouraging to know we were in the same boat. This impressed upon me a fundamental question in dentistry: do we really know what a tooth should look like?

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