How a Dentist Can Save Your Life
by Sherry Regiani
You read that right. Think of the last time you visited your primary care physician. How much time did he or she spend looking in your mouth?
Most health-conscience people see their dentist every 6 months or so. During that time, your dentist or hygienist spends almost the entire visit looking in your mouth. There is so much more to assess than tooth decay or broken and chipping teeth.
Do you have receding gums? Painless, right? According to The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, “the body's immune response to the spread of bacteria during later stages of gum disease and periodontal disease can increase cancer risk by 14% to 20%.” That’s huge!
Erosion behind your front teeth can be a sign or GERD, or something more. Harvard did a 28-year study of 150,000 adults and found “people with a history of periodontal (gum) disease were 43% more likely to develop esophageal cancer and 52% more likely to develop gastric (stomach) cancer compared with people whose gums were healthier.”
And then there are the issues of loud snoring, gasping for air, mouth breathing and dry mouth, dark circles under your eyes and daytime tiredness. Do you have apnea?
Studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, metabolic disease, excessive daytime sleepiness, work-place errors, traffic accidents and death. But it’s not just sleep apnea. There are many shades of grey when it comes to sleep-disordered breathing.
To assess whether you have a breathing problem, and to what extent, dentists typically use two methods. First is a 3-D CBCT (cone beam computerized tomography) imaging with special software to measure the width of your throat. Is it as wide as a wine cork or as narrow as a coffee straw? Then, a home sleep study can show the quality of your sleep and how many times you wake up during the night. These tests must be read by a licensed sleep physician who works with your dentist for proper diagnosis.
The next step depends on the results. While a C-PAP is still the gold standard, people who won’t or can’t wear one can often find substantial relief by wearing a smaller device at night that helps move the jaw into a better position to keep the airway open. It’s non-invasive and easy to care for.
When we sleep, we recharge our bodies. Take good care of yours by visiting a dentist.
Sherry Regiani, SHRM-CP, is Administrative Director at Regiani Holistic Dental Center in Clarkston, MI. For more information call 248-625-5222, visit their website: RegianiDental.com.