This story will put a smile on your face in ways you never thought possible. Everyone knows that regular visits to the dentist can help you avoid getting cavities. However, there are so many other less obvious ways that a dental health expert can improve your life and overall health. According to the CDC, dental-related diseases cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year, and impact both your physical and mental health. If you still aren’t convinced that dental care is absolutely crucial in maintaining your wellbeing, here are 15 surprising benefits you will reap by regularly sitting in a dental chair.
Are you struggling to sleep? You might be surprised that the key to a good night’s sleep may have to do with your teeth. Your dentist can help fit you with an oral device to help you have an uninterrupted night of bliss. There is even a whole genre called “dental sleep medicine” devoted to the treatment of sleep apnea, in which your breathing can stop for as long a minute, before your brain wakes you up to resume breathing.
Gum disease (periodontitis) is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, Seema Sarin, MD, EHE Health, points out. “Gum disease increases the risk of a bacterial infection in the bloodstream, which can affect the heart valves,” she says. “So brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss every day, and get regular dental check-ups.”
There is a definite link between your teeth and your brain, explains Minnesota dentist Bryan Laskin, DDS. “Dental disease, like cavities and gum disease produce noxious, nasty bacteria that gets into your bloodstream and can cause problems anywhere in the body, including the brain,” she says. “It’s very possible for that bacteria to spread to the brain.” Charles Sutera, DMD, adds that recent studies have shown a link between periodontal disease and the development of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Connections between oral health and diabetes are another important reason to visit the dentist regularly. “According to the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health, 95% of people with diabetes also have gum disease, and people with gum disease have more difficulty controlling their blood sugar level,” points out Dr. Laskin.
Did you know that chronic headaches can have a dental origin? “Tension-type headaches have a lifetime prevalence of 52% in the general population,” points out Dr. Sutera. “That’s a lot of people with aching craniums.” While headaches can be caused by a variety of neurological and anatomical issues, he refers to a 2010 study that showed a statistically significant higher prevalence of headaches in patients who also had at least one symptom of temporomandibular joint disorder, also known as TMJ disorder.
Oral cancer is very much on the rise, and your dentist is specially trained to screen for it! “While oral cancer used to be mainly attributed to excessive smoking and drinking, we now know that the human papillomavirus also causes oropharyngeal cancer,” explains Heather Kunen, DDS, MS, co-founder of Beam Street. “This particular type of oral cancer that is caused by HPV is majorly on the rise, and your dentist may be the first person to notice abnormal changes caused by the disease.” If your dentist sees anything suspicious, he or she may biopsy the area and send to a pathologist in order to rule out any abnormal cells—and it could save your life. “Early detection is the best defense against oral cancer, so make sure to go in for your six month checkup with your dentist.”
While many patients assume their dentists are only looking for cavities at their six month checkups, they are also looking for periodontal disease. “Periodontal disease is the degradation of bone and gum tissue that houses your teeth. When bone levels surrounding your teeth drop excessively, you can lose your teeth,” says Dr. Kunen. Most patients assume that cavities are the cause of tooth loss, but it is actually periodontal disease that is the biggest culprit. “Your dentist monitors your periodontal health at each six month check up to make sure your bone levels are stable and that you will keep your teeth for years to come.”
While dentists are known to screen for active dental infections like cavities and periodontal disease, they also look for more subtle dental changes that could be harming your dental health. “Dentists are trained to look for certain wear patterns on your teeth that could be caused by involuntary habits like clenching or grinding,” Dr. Kunen points out. For example, many people will clench or grind their teeth while they sleep, and this involuntary habit could lead to chipped or broken teeth as well as gum recession. “If your dentist notices wear patterns that may indicate clenching or grinding, he/she will fabricate a night guard to be worn while sleeping to prevent dental injuries from this habit.”
Janette Nesheiwat, MD, a family and emergency doctor reveals that oral health has been linked to pancreatic cancer. “This is because bacteria plaque buildup in your teeth can cause heart valvular problems which is linked to pancreatic cancer,” she explains. “Seeing your dentist regularly for routine cleanings and exams can not only help you keep your teeth and gums healthy, but can also make you feel better overall and live a longer life.”
Ever notice how your dentist checks your throat and jawline? “We do that to check for abnormalities in your lymphatic system and also to try and detect any early signs of cancers—particularly if you have unhealthy habits like smoking or familial history,” says Ashley Paré, DMD, Shoreline Smiles. “We also do this by performing visual inspections within your mouth when we gently pull your tongue to the sides and examine throughout your mouth.”
It should come as zero surprise that people who regularly visit the dentist maintain better oral health in the long-run. Dentures are not only a pain in the butt, but they are incredibly expensive. So if you want to keep your natural teeth, the best method is to simply take care of them.
Because dental health is linked to your overall health in so many ways, Dr. Laskin points out that visiting the dentist regularly will help reduce your overall healthcare costs. “Visiting the dentist regularly is an important part of maintaining your health. Research continues to build showing deeper connections between oral health and overall health including the conclusion that periodontal treatment reduces hospital admissions and lowers annual medical costs,” he explains.
Nothing can put damper a romance quite like bad breath. According to research, foul-smelling breath is the number one turnoff when it comes to a potential partner. If you visit your dentist regularly, they can help you eliminate your stank breath.
If you are happy with your smile, it is likely your self-esteem will improve. Studies have found that individuals who aren’t happy with their dental situation, are more likely to struggle with self-worth issues.
Did you know that a toothache could result in death? Two hundred years ago, “teeth” were regularly listed as a cause of death. This is because dental infections can be incredibly serious, even leading to sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Remember that next time you put off seeing the dentist!
And to avoid having to go to the doctor at all, don’t miss this essential list of the 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.