SEATTLE — You expect to hear about the importance of good oral health from your dentist, but next time you visit your doctor, you may hear the same advice. Premera Blue Cross' Doctor Shawn West wants you know there's a connection between oral and overall health.
"Even though we have artificially separated the teeth from the rest of the body, they're completely linked," Dr. West said.
Poor dental health can lead to increased risk for serious medical issues. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield Health of America, people diagnosed with serious dental conditions like Gum Disease, tooth loss, or tooth and mouth infections are:
- 25% more likely to suffer from heart disease
- 2 times as likely to visit the ER or have a hospital stay
- Likely to suffer from autoimmune disorders, anemia, gastro-intestinal disorders, or renal disease
Conversely, medical conditions like diabetes and pregnancy can increase your chances to develop serious dental conditions. If you have one of these conditions, it's even more important to take good care of your teeth and gums.
Dr. West highly encourages parents to start training young kids as soon as they get teeth to take care of them in order to prevent issues later on.
"Get used to brushing and flossing early on," advised Dr. West. "Fluoride in the water turns out as a huge benefit to kids."
It's good practice to brush your teeth twice a day, or after meals, floss daily, keep up with regular dental visits and get your teeth cleaned twice a year. Developing good oral health practices can help you and your family stay healthy.
Dr. West also discussed how certain medications can negatively affect oral health.
"High blood pressure is pretty common, and there are a few blood pressure medications that can give you a dry mouth," Dr. West said. "And if your mouth is dry, that can make it really hard to take care of your teeth. It's something that you need to actively manage to make sure your mouth stays moist."
People with diabetes and heart disease are at a higher risk for compromised oral health.
"If your teeth and gums are not taken care of, it can cause chronic inflammation," said Dr. West. "Which then can significantly increase your risk for a stroke or heart attack."
Rules for oral and ultimately overall health that Dr. West suggests are:
- Brushing 2 to 3 times per day with an electric toothbrush
- Flossing daily
- Replacing your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months
- Drinking water with fluoride/using fluoride toothpaste
- Dental checkups twice per year