PUBLISHED: 6:35 PM on Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Then heart disease might visit you
Avoid the dentist?
The buzz of a dentist's tools send chills down the backs of most Americans.

But dentists agree the best way to prevent a painful, costly experience at the dentist's office is to keep regular oral checkup and cleaning schedules.

Plus, dentists have long known the connection between the mouth and the body, according to the American Dental Association.

For example, there's evidence that diabetics are more likely to develop gum disease than non-diabetics. Gum disease also has been linked to heart disease and stroke.

Other research suggests that pregnant women with advanced gum disease are at an increased risk for delivering pre-term babies or babies with low birth weight, according to the ADA.

It is for these reasons that people must take care of their teeth and gums, said Dr. Thomas Ashdown, dental administrator with Covenant Community Services in Lubbock, Texas.

"The mouth is the portal to the whole body, and if you've got an infection in the mouth, it can be transferred to the whole body," he said.

"Just as seeing their physician is important ... even more so dental problems need to be addressed at an early stage."

Fifty percent of people do not come to the dentist unless they are in pain, Ashdown said.

Dentist recommend people go for cleanings twice a year. Bacteria and plaque can settle under the gums are difficult to reach with a tooth brush and floss.

Symptoms of gum disease include bleeding gums, a bad taste in the mouth, gum recession and loose teeth.

Tooth decay comes with its own signs, including toothache or tooth pain, tooth sensitivity, pain when eating or drinking something hot, sweet or cold and visible holes or pits in the teeth, according to the Mayo Clinic.

A lot of people believe that tooth decay isn't a big deal because crumbling teeth can be pulled. However, if too many teeth are extracted, a person may not be able to chew properly, which can lead to nutritional problems.

Most people who do not see a dentist on a regular basis say they are afraid or believe they cannot afford treatment, Ashdown said.

However, paying for regular checkups is less expensive than paying for an emergency root canal or crown. Preventative treatment for cavities or abscess teeth is less painful as well.

Regular dental checkups most often consist of X-rays of the teeth and gums, an oral cancer screening a periodontal exam and a cleaning.

When it is necessary for dentist to perform a painful procedure, Ashdown said dentists will use local anesthetic.

Some dentists sometimes will administer intravenous sedation or nitrous oxide - commonly known as laughing gas - to ease a patient's nerves, Ashdown said.

"Dentists are usually seen as people that cause pain, although in today's modern dentistry, we're able to relieve the anxiety and pain that takes place there," he said.

As for the sensitive topic of payment for dental treatment, there's help for that, too.

Gum disease


• Bad breath that won't go away.

• Red or swollen gums.

• Tender or bleeding gums.

• Loose teeth.

• Painful chewing.

• Sensitive teeth.

Risk factors

• Smoking.

• Hormonal changes in girls/women.

• Diabetes.

• Stress.

• Medications.

• llnesses.

• Genetic susceptibility.

Source: National Institutes of Health