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A Smile - It's More Than Meets the Eye

A Smile - It's More Than Meets the Eye

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A recent survey asking how much a front tooth was worth revealed that those surveyed wouldn't take less than $100,000 for one of their front teeth. Although this survey seems more than a little extreme, it is not surprising that we do place a great deal of value on our smiles and the smiles of others. Healthy teeth and gums contribute to our lives in many obvious, as well as less obvious ways. There is no doubt that oral health (simply caring for our teeth and gums) is important in helping us achieve not only a longer life, but a better quality of life.

What's Behind a Smile - More Than We May Think

Periodontal disease (a diseased state of the mouth) is primarily caused by an over abundance of certain types of bacteria. Some of the signs and symptoms of periodontal disease are gums that bleed easily; persistent bad breath; a bad taste in the mouth; red, swollen or tender gums; and loose permanent teeth. It is possible to have periodontal disease without symptoms, which is why having regular dental exams and periodontal screenings is important. Hard deposits (called calculus or tartar) that build up on your teeth cannot be removed with regular flossing and brushing. These deposits create an ideal environment for bacteria, which cause tooth decay and periodontal disease. It is, therefore, also important to have your teeth regularly and professionally cleaned by a dental hygienist. Your dentist can help you determine the schedule that is best for you (generally two times per year), depending on how quickly you build up these deposits and the health of you gum tissues.

A Healthy Smile is a Healthy Body

Research has repeatedly shown a strong correlation between a healthy mouth and a healthy body. In fact, if you are able to keep most of your original teeth and avoid periodontal disease, you will live a longer life. Why is this so? Digestion begins with your teeth. It is the teeth that begin the breakdown of food so that it can be digested properly. Those suffering from poor oral health tend to alter their diet to compensate for periodontal problems. For example, it has been found that people with poor oral health tend to choose foods higher in carbohydrates and simple sugars. These foods are typically not as nutritious, and therefore, not as good for your body. In addition, poorly chewed food inhibits the ability of the body to digest food effectively and properly.

Researchers have found that periodontal disease has been linked to and may contribute to certain diseases in the body.

  • Some evidence suggests that oral bacteria may be linked to heart disease, arterial blockages, and stroke.
  • Poor dental health can contribute to bacterial pneumonia.
  • In pregnant women, periodontitis can contribute to pre-term labor and low birth weight in infants. Sometimes a woman will need to have cleanings done more frequently than every six months during pregnancy.
  • In turn, fluctuating hormones may also be a contributing factor to periodontal disease.
  • In addition, diseases such as diabetes, blood cell disorders, HIV infections, and AIDS can lower the body's resistance to infection making periodontal disease more severe.

Oral cancer has a high death rate because of the lack of early diagnosis. Part of a regular checkup at your dentist's office includes a visual examination for cancer of the tongue and mouth. Oral cancers are very treatable if caught early. This is especially important for people who use tobacco on a regular basis. Smokers are much more prone to periodontal disease which in turn greatly increases their risk of oral cancers. If you combine alcohol with smoking, your chance of developing periodontal disease increases even more, not to mention the higher likelihood of developing oral cancer.

Fluoride and Your Smile

Fluoride is a mineral that occurs naturally in some water sources. It is also a trace element found in small amounts in the human body. Approximately 95 percent of the body's fluoride is found in the bones and teeth. According to the Surgeon General, Richard H. Carmona, "Fluoridation is the single most effective public health measure to prevent tooth decay and improve health over a lifetime, for both children and adults." Children taking fluoride while their teeth are developing will develop stronger teeth; in fact, studies show there to be a 40 percent decrease in caries (cavities). Fluoride in adulthood aids in re-mineralization of the teeth and strengthens them by increasing acid resistance and suppressing the growth of bacteria in the mouth.

Fluoride supplementation, be it available through water fluoridation or dental/physician prescription, makes a positive contribution to good dental health. Topical fluoride applied through the use of toothpastes, mouthwashes, gels or varnishes protect the tooth structure, prevent decay, and can reduces tooth sensitivity. Fluoride varnishes are generally recommended at your regularly scheduled dental appointments.

Fluoride treatments are especially recommended for patients experiencing Xerostomia (dry mouth). Saliva helps to neutralize the acidity of the mouth and rinse sugar away from the teeth. A reduction in saliva can be caused by certain medications, mouth breathers, and treatments for allergy sufferers, or for those who have received head and neck radiation for cancer treatment.

Osteoporosis (bone deterioration) is a growing concern. Medications for the treatment of this disease are used to increase bone density. Fluoride stabilizes and helps strengthen bone. Recent studies and treatments of osteoporosis that include fluoride therapy (injections or capsules) show positive results in not only maintaining current bone level, but also in increasing bone density.

A Great Smile Is a Team Effort

Oral health begins with your personal habits. Brushing and flossing, at least twice a day, is crucial. Your dentist will show you how to make the most of your brushing and flossing. Professional examination, cleaning, and consistent encouragement are crucial as well. Only your dentist and your dental technicians can provide this important service. A smile that is free from periodontal disease and decay is a smile that promotes confidence and self-esteem. How we look at ourselves and how others look at us often determines our success in achieving all kinds of goals: professional and career, personal and social. Everyone appreciates a confident smile. Keep your mouth healthy and your smile big.

Dr. Gary Hoopes is an Ogden cosmetic dentist who offers various dental services, including porcelain veneers and teeth whitening.

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