I recently visited Historic Jamestown, the landing site of America’s earliest European ancestors. In the excavations there, the bodies of these settlers from 1610 have been identified mostly by the remains of their teeth and bones. The teeth tell the story of what they ate, how old they were, and their general state of health prior to their demise. This truly is the same today: Our oral health, or lack thereof, provides a picture of our general health.
In America today, almost half of our population does not seek regular dental care. Across the country, our emergency rooms are reporting a large increase in treating dental infections and trauma. Most of these visits could be avoided by preventive care and earlier intervention. Dental disease is rather silent and symptoms are not significant until most of the damage has been done.
Most dental disease is about inflammation from bacteria in our mouths, which cause our teeth – or the bones that support our teeth – to decay. That decay leads to tooth loss and gum disease, both of which are usually preventable with good plaque control that a trip to the dentist can address. Plaque control is important to reduce inflammation, though we now know that diet and genetic predisposition are also important factors for related health issues like acid reflux disease.
The top health issues for Americans, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature labor, may be impacted by inflammation in oral disease. We have ways of learning who is at risk and then recommending appropriate treatment to target those risk factors. An assessment by a dental professional is the first step in targeting your personal risk factors.
Though many people don’t have a regular dentist, finding a dentist is easy. The Vermont State Dental Society has a website that can direct people to a dentist nearby or someone who might target your specific need. Also, the UVM Medical Center will open a dental clinic later this year. The clinic will offer preventive dental treatment, annual exams and cleanings, and urgent dental care to all employees.
I encourage everyone to visit their dentist for a cleaning , x-rays and an annual exam. Many dental insurance programs provide an annual exam and a cleaning for no co-pay. These preventive procedures could save you many hours of treatment and a lot of money, as dental problems could be dealt with earlier with a more predictable outcome.
Janet Thomason Miccolo, DDS is the program director for the Dental Residency at the University of Vermont Medical Center.