Word of Appreciation

Updated: 02/25/2011

Beyond the Basics: Is Your Dentist Taking Shortcuts?

By Sheila Wolf, RDH

Most people think of a routine dental appointment as a checkup for cavities and an opportunity to get their teeth polished for a brighter smile. Indeed, those two items are standard. However, you can give your dental professional an A+ for competence if your dental visit goes beyond the basics.

There is growing evidence that chronic bacterial infections of the mouth are linked to a number of life-threatening illnesses. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, “Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease.”

Periodontal disease is an infection, and all infections are dangerous. Researchers have found that mouth bacteria can be aspirated into the lung to cause respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia. Gum infections may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar, therefore increasing diabetic complications. Heart attack and stroke become more of a threat for a person with a chronic mouth infection.

Pregnant women are at risk too because a chronic mouth infection for them could mean a threat to the health of the baby. Mothers-to-be with a severe periodontal infection are almost eight times more likely to have a pre-term, low birth weight baby.

The Surgeon General of the United States in his Report in May 2000 spoke of a healthy mouth being more than just healthy teeth and the absence of disease. “You cannot be healthy without oral health. Oral health and general health should not be interpreted as separate entities.”

We know now that cavities and gum disease are bacterial infections that can be prevented. An open wound such as bleeding gums, is a perfect source for specific bacteria, hiding between the teeth and gums, to enter the blood stream and make their way to major organs to begin new infections.

So, you can see the importance of a very thorough oral checkup. It isn’t just about having a pretty smile or even chewing those steak bones into old age. It is about detecting other problems and ultimately having the healthiest body that we can possibly have.

Beyond the Basics:

A thorough review of your medical history including any new medications, hospitalizations and other health concerns.
In addition to the obvious — your teeth — a soft tissue exam should be performed that includes your cheeks, your tongue, your palates, (hard and soft) and your throat.
An assessment of your gums (color, texture, contour, bleeding, pus) and probing of periodontal pockets.
An external exam of your neck and palpation of your glands and lymph nodes.
A visual exam of your head, neck, lips and face for any crusty, discolored or lingering sore that has been there for 2 weeks or longer.
Checking for a change in your bite, or any obvious clicking when you open your mouth wide.
An assessment of your oral hygiene effectiveness and a review of techniques that will help you improve.

And if you are lucky enough to be going to a dentist who has a microscope, he/she will evaluate bacteria levels in your mouth that not only threaten your teeth and gums but also your full body health.

It is in our best interest to see our dental professional several times a year. It is the responsibility of our dentist and hygienist to check our teeth and restore the luster in our smile, but it is also our responsibility to make sure we get a thorough checkup. Besides the obvious — inside our mouth — all the areas of our face, head and neck need to be examined to make sure there is nothing lurking that threatens our long-term health.

If your dentist is taking short cuts, show him or her the checklist above and ask for a more complete exam. If you get an objection or a blank stare, then run to the nearest phone book or ask a friend about their dentist and find someone who will go beyond the basics. We need to be partners with all our health professionals to make sure we are actually around to smile for a long, long time.

This article appeared online in OraMedia Dental Self Sufficiency.

Sheila Wolf “BIO”

Sheila Wolf, RDH, affectionately called “Mama Gums,” has been a registered dental hygienist since 1971. She is currently retired from clinical practice but enjoys writing, speaking, and consulting on various oral health issues. She has authored two award-winning books, Pregnancy and Oral Health: The critical connection between your mouth and your baby, and Your Mouth Could Be KILLING You. Both are available on her website, http://www.mamagums.com/about_book.html, through Amazon, and at finer bookstores everywhere. Sheila also works with people privately as an oral wellness coach, educating and empowering people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to their lives. You may reach Sheila through her website, www.mamagums.com or in San Diego at 866-MAMA-GUMs. 

Sheila will happily share her articles with you. Please acknowledge her contribution by including her “Bio” at the end of the article.

Mama Gums