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Why teeth matter to health more than your patients might think.
Patients are slowly becoming aware that their mouth matters. Yes, they know teeth are important and that brushing and flossing are necessary. They may even assume their mouth is connected to some health problems.
But what else can you tell them about why their teeth matter-more than they think? Here are seven things to tell patients to remind them just how much their oral health matters.
“Teeth provide a great smile.”
Sure, we all know this, but if you’ve been blessed with a terrific-looking smile, you may take it for granted. "Having a great smile is not only about looking better, it is also about how prospective employers, love interests or business partners will judge us,” says Edward A. Alvarez, D.D.S., fellow, World Clinical Laser Institute, who practices in Murray Hill, New York.
Dr. Alvarez reminds patients that people judge our intelligence, cleanliness, socioeconomic level and other attributes by our smile. Whether it’s right or wrong, “not having a nice smile can cost us more than embarrassment, it can also cost us money or love, and that is a cost to our self-esteem and mental health,” he notes. A lot of patients are motivated by wanting the best possible smile-and it’s okay to remind them that’s what you’re there for.
“You don’t want to eat baby food, right?”
Another thing patients take for granted-until they have a problem-is eating. "Having a full set of teeth that are free of pain matters because digestion begins with chewing in the mouth,” Dr. Alvarez says. There’s nothing worse than not being able to chew on your back teeth because of pain, drink a cold drink because of sensitivity or have to avoid your favorite crunchy food because of missing teeth.
“If you cannot chew properly, it will lead to stomach and digestive problems, and you will not be able to absorb the nutrients fully," Alvarez notes. Reminding patients about their tooth functionality is key.
“Your saliva looks great.”
That’s not something patients hear a lot. “I choose to discuss…saliva,” says Anastasia Turchetta, RDH, a speaker and author in Buffalo, New York. “I'll say ‘your saliva looks healthy.’” Turchetta says saliva “should always look like champagne-clear and bubbly.” The hygienist tells her patients if their saliva is thick or stringy like a rope used to lasso an animal in a rodeo, they may have a problem such as dry mouth or a salivary gland dysfunction. Turchetta mentions how medications dry out the mouth and without saliva, teeth are not remineralized from the assault of the food in their diet. Plus, risk for tooth decay increases because food and plaque will stick to teeth without saliva to wash it off.
“Without saliva, tooth sensitivity increases and speaking and eating become difficult,” she explains. While not many dental professionals speak about saliva, letting patients know what’s normal is one more way they can be proactive about their dental health.
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“There’s more to your oral health than your teeth.”
While teeth take up much of the focus in oral health care, patients should be reminded that dental professionals are also concerned with the rest of their mouth. “Health of your teeth include the surrounding bone level, the current state of health of the enamel [and] the health of your soft tissue: your cheeks, gums, palate, soft palate, lips, tongue and saliva,” Turchetta says. Remind patients that you’re examining the whole mouth for any abnormalities, disease or problems.
“Your mouth matters to the rest of your body.”
You may have to keep telling your patients this. “Having healthy teeth and gums can reduce your risk of other serious health problems such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer,” says Eric Wiitala, D.D.S., who practices in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Having good oral hygiene at home and having your teeth professionally cleaned, which removes tartar and plaque buildup, reduces the risk of developing one of these more serious conditions.”
Be sure to share with patients the strong link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. Getting good oral health care from your dental professional and practicing it at home can reduce patients’ chance of a heart attack and stroke. What’s more important than that? Dr. Wiitala tells patients their routine dental exam also screens for oral cancers and early diagnosis of those types of cancers is key to beating them.
“Infected gums are like having an open wound.”
How’s that for blunt? “Having gums that are infected with periodontal disease is like having a 9-inch open wound in your body,” Dr. Alvarez says. You wouldn’t go around with an untreated gaping wound, and you shouldn’t walk around with gum disease.
“It will bring down your immune system and affect your cardiovascular and pulmonary health,” Dr. Alvarez notes. Plus, in pregnancy, it can affect an unborn baby. Remind patients how important clearing up mouth infections are to their health.
“If you have a clean, healthy mouth, you’re likely healthy.”
That’s pretty profound news. “Yes! Teeth certainly have a profound effect on one’s overall health,” says Elena Chistokhina, RDH, who works at Gallery 57 Dental in New York City. “If you have a really clean healthy mouth, chances are you are a healthy individual. If you have any serious mouth issues such as periodontitis, chances are you may have diabetes, heart disease and a greater chance of heart attack, greater risk of stroke, greater risk of certain cancers and other potentially serious health problems.”
Since anything that causes inflammation in the mouth likely causes other health problems that are inflammation-based, the health of the mouth and the health of the rest of your body are intrinsically linked. “It has been proven that serious inflammation in the mouth is associated with more difficult management of blood sugar in diabetics,” Chistokhina notes.
The inflammatory cells in the mouth cause A1C hemoglobin to increase, and diabetics need to keep A1C levels low to effectively manage blood sugar. This is just one example of how oral health is an integral part of overall health. A healthy mouth usually means good overall health and patients are pleased to learn that if their mouth is in good shape, so too, typically, is the rest of their health.