Do you have a fear of spiders? Of flying? Of tight spaces?
While many people have intense fears about certain things, like a fear of dogs, others have no fear at all. For people who have fear or anxiety associated with dental visits, this can be a common reason for avoiding regular dental care. Unfortunately, this can lead to a mouthful of problems along with higher risks for some serious diseases and conditions.
Some people simply dread going to the dentist. I know, I know. It’s an hour out of busy schedules. Too, some people feel vulnerable while on their backs with an opened mouth or react to certain smells or sounds. However, regular dental exams and cleanings are an important part of maintaining good oral health AND good overall health. And, research has proven this.
For decades, studies have proven a direct contact between poor oral health and diseases related to other organs. By neglecting dental upkeep, people are at greater risk of developing (or the worsening of) a number of serious diseases and conditions. To avoid these risks, good dental care at home and having regular dental check-ups help empower adults in improving the well-being of their smiles and in giving the immune system a boost. A brief video will show why I’m especially understanding of the anxiety associated with dental visits: DrBarbatShares
As a dentist in Shelby Twp, I have a firsthand view of just what dental fear can do to oral health. I’s not uncommon for adults who avoid dental visits to feel they are doing a sufficient job maintaining their oral wellness at home. Or, some assume if nothing hurts, then nothing is wrong. However, even people who feel they are doing a good job at the sink can easily miss areas of bacteria accumulation. Grooves in the tops of teeth and tight areas formed by crooked teeth become ideal hiding spots for bacteria growth.
Although the Covid virus is much less of a looming threat, the experience made people more aware of the value of keeping the immune system running at its peak. By investing in having healthy gums, the immune system is actually supported more than is largely known.
Bacteria in the mouth are intricately connected to your overall health, so much so that “bad” oral bacteria can disrupt the healthy balance in the digestive system. This bacteria comes from oral plaque, which is a cesspool of sorts formed from bacteria accumulation.
As a layer of biofilm, plaque coats teeth and gums. It is the sticky coating in the mouth, known as plaque. Within days, unremoved plaque hardens into tartar, which is a hardened mass of oral bacteria. When not “scraped off” by a dental hygienist during dental cleanings, these cement-hard bacteria colonies continue to grow, causing damage in the mouth and far beyond.
Periodontal (gum) disease is the result of bacterial overload. The mouth offers a warm, dark environment where lingering bacteria can constantly feed and reproduce. While bacteria thrive on food particles caught between teeth, sugars are especially destructive. As bacteria feed on sugars from foods and drinks, tooth enamel is weakened as bacteria convert sugar into acids. As bacteria thrive, they are able to reproduce very rapidly.
When bacteria levels become more than the immune system can manage, infection can set in. Accumulation of bacteria can develop into gum disease, which is an inflammation that attacks teeth, oral tissues and the bone structures that support tooth roots. It starts with minimal symptoms but can quickly erupt into a serious condition that drains the immune system.
Gingivitis is the initial stage of gum disease. Symptoms typically include tender gums and some bleeding when brushing. Gum disease symptoms are more prominent than gingivitis. These include sore gums that bleed when brushing, persistent bad breath, gums that pull away from the base around teeth, and gums that turn red in color. As it worsens to the stage known as periodontitis, pus pockets may form on the gums at the base of some teeth. In advanced stages, gum disease causes teeth to loosen and eventually require removal.
While gum disease is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss, research has correlated its infectious bacteria to a hefty list of serious health problems. Some can be activated by the bacteria of periodontitis while some are worsened by it.
For those who avoid dental care due to anxiety or fear, we understand that these risks are not necessarily going to enable them to cast their fears aside. However, understanding that dental fear prevents you from achieving a healthy smile and can be a serious threat to your overall health may shine a different light on the importance of regular dental care. Ignoring good dental care can increase health risks you may not realize.
These risks include:
Dementia & Alzheimer’s disease: Gum disease occurs when infection of the oral tissues develops. Oral bacteria and the inflammatory molecules that develop can enter the bloodstream, making their way to the brain. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, destroys memory, shrinks the brain, and causes brain cells to die. It degenerates the functioning of mental health, which leads to memory loss and confusion.
The bacterium P. gingivalis appears to migrate from the mouth to the brain of some individuals as they age, resulting in a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Cardiovascular disease: A potential association exists between atherosclerosis (i.e. plaque deposition in blood vessels) and periodontal pathogens. There is a broad base of common genetic factors that increase both the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk of periodontitis.
Endocarditis: Bacteremia (defined as the entry of bacteria into the blood stream) is a precondition for endocarditis. The vast majority of bacteremia do not cause endocarditis, even in patients at high risk. However, in high-risk patients, the more frequently and more intensely bacteremia occurs, the greater the likelihood of endocarditis. Periodontal therapy has been shown to have a protective effect in people at risk of endocarditis.
Erectile Dysfunction: In the U.S., an estimated 18% of males have erectile dysfunction (ED). Men over the age of 70 are more likely to have ED compared to 5% between ages 20 – 40. Studies have found that ED is more common among men with chronic periodontitis, particularly for those younger than 40 and older than 59.
Stroke: In one study, researchers found that stroke patients with gum disease had twice as many strokes due to thickening and hardening of brain arteries. Additionally, patients with gum disease have been shown to be three times as likely to have a stroke involving blood vessels in the back of the brain, which controls vision, coordination and other functions.
Arthritis: Recent studies show that gum disease is a risk factor for arthritis. While genetic factors certainly contribute to greater RA susceptibility, the true source has been determined to be inflammatory reactions. This inflammation is triggered primarily by bacterial infections, with oral bacteria being a significant contributor to inflammatory arthritis.
Diabetes: It has long been known that acute inflammation may lead to poor glycemic control. This is due to the fact that infections reduce the uptake of glucose into cells, and endotoxins and inflammatory mediators reduce the efficiency of insulin. Due to these pathways, periodontitis (advanced gum disease) has been regarded as a risk factor for poor blood glucose control in diabetes patients.
Pre-Term Babies: Studies have shown that gum disease increases the risk for preterm delivery (before 37 weeks) and low birth weight babies. Gum disease also increases the risk for poor obstetrical outcomes, late miscarriage and pre-eclampsia. For example, the preterm birth rate for women without periodontal disease is approximately 11% compared to nearly 29% for females with moderate to severe gum disease.
While these health concerns are all reasons to renew your commitment to achieve and maintain a healthy smile, the image of having a terrific smile you want to share often is an added perk of having good oral health. As a general and neuromuscular dentist, I have advanced skills in treating most stages of gum disease and helping high-fear patients relax or even overcome their fears.
If dental fear is holding you back, let us help you take your smile back! Begin by understanding that having discomfort or pain is NOT a part of today’s dentistry. In our Macomb County dental office, we have advanced skills and technology that enhance comfort and minimize treatment time. In addition, we offer oral sedation as well as I.V. sedation (twilight sleep) for most procedures, if desired.
Oral sedation is a pill that helps patients relax. It also has an amnesiac effect, leaving most with little or no memory of treatment afterward. I.V. sedation places the patient in a deeper sedative state, also erasing memory of the procedure. Sedated patients are constantly monitored with advanced safety equipment throughout treatment. Here, your safety is as important as comfort.
Too, our entire staff are a unified team, each bringing a sincere level of compassion and commitment to excellent care. While the doctors involved in your care are top-notch, I must admit that our staff are the pros at making our patients feel truly pampered.
When patients realize that our goal is to provide exceptional care in total comfort, they relax. When they experience this more than once, a sense of trust is born. This often converts once-fearful patients into those who no longer avoid dental care.
Like everyone, fearful patients desire a healthy, confident smile. Once the obstacle of fear is removed, their ability to achieve this is greatly heightened. If you or someone you know has fear that prevents them from needed or desired dental care, begin by scheduling a consultation appointment. During this time, we can discuss specific needs and concerns and have your questions answered thoroughly.
And, see why many people who once had dental fear have found a healthy, confident smile through our care: DrBarbatComfort