In the 1970s, the Mayo Clinic published research indicating that people who received regular dental care tended to live six to eight years longer than those who did not. At first it was felt that folks who take care of their teeth were more likely to take care of the rest of their bodies. But as time went on, the medical community started looking more closely at the relationship between dental disease – especially periodontal, or gum disease – and general health.
They learned that patients with gum disease had a higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes. In gum disease, which is due to poor teeth cleaning, bacteria around the gum tissue create a chronic inflammatory state of the gums, which allows bacteria to get into the bloodstream more easily. The long-term presence of bacteria in the blood puts the patient at higher risk of heart and circulatory problems, like heart attacks and strokes.
People with artificial joints, such as hips, knees and shoulders, as well as those with artificial heart valves, are at a greater risk for problems caused by bacteria in the blood. So not only do they need to take an antibiotic prior to their dental visits, but they also need to take very good care of their teeth and gums to reduce the chances of getting bacteria in their blood from gum disease.
The bottom line? As we get older, taking care of our dental needs is not only essential for healthy teeth and gums – it’s vital for our general well being, too.