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It comes in a matchbox sized package with a flip top, and often smells minty fresh. And if you put it in your mouth, it just might save your neck. What am I referring to? Why dental floss of course.
New research suggests that flossing daily could decrease your odds of developing neck cancer. Doctors already know that flossing and brushing help prevent oral diseases that somehow open the door to bad things like heart disease. Now a new study found that in people with periodontitis — a form of gum disease in which the bones that hold the roots of teeth in place start to break down —that for each millimeter of supporting bone that was lost, head and neck cancer risk increased more than fourfold.
More and more research is pointing to ties between oral health and overall health. Even when taking into consideration other bad health habits, such as smoking or excessive drinking, studies have still shown a strong link between periodontal disease and other diseases. Short of a visit to the dentist, no other oral healthcare habit alone has the same ability to remove plaque between teeth and below your gum line as flossing does.
To help you get the most out of that minty white string here are some flossing tips. Be sure to slide the floss under your gum line and to gently curl it around each tooth as you floss. Floss gently, but don’t quit because your gums bleed. eventually, they will become stronger and bleed less with regular flossing. Use fresh floss for each tooth juncture. and if you find it hard to floss using your fingers, try dental–floss picks or holders that anchor sections of floss. Taking the time to floss is a wise investment—not just to protect against head and neck cancer, but to reduce your risks for heart disease and stroke.
Q. I’m a 56-year-old man with high blood pressure. At my last check-up, my dentist found gum disease and referred me to a periodontist for treatment. I know that high blood pressure increases my risk of heart disease, and I’ve been told that gum disease does, too. Is it true, and will the treatment help?
A. Dentists and cardiologists have been trying to find answers to your questions but they have not yet succeeded. Several studies have reported that people with periodontitis are more likely to have heart disease than people with healthy gums. But the link may be less than meets the eye.
Heart disease and gum disease share several common risk factors, including the male gender, advancing age, smoking, and diabetes. As a result, many people who are at risk for gum disease would also be at risk for heart disease even if the two conditions had no direct link. Still, because periodontitis is an inflammatory condition, it does boost blood levels of C-reactive protein and fibrinogen, both of which have been implicated in coronary artery disease.
It will take awhile to sort out the relationship between gum disease and the heart. And scientists are also working on your second question. The Periodontitis and Vascular Events (PAVE) study is evaluating the effects of periodontal treatment in patients who have both severe gum disease and clear-cut coronary artery disease.
Periodontal treatment may or may not help your heart—but it will help your gums and teeth, and good dental health has been linked to good general health. So keep flossing and brushing, use an antibacterial mouth rinse regularly, and see your dentist. And while you are looking for ways to protect your heart, don’t forget the proven benefits of a good diet, regular exercise, avoiding tobacco in all its forms, and controlling blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, body weight, and stress.
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