Oral health is more than just nice teeth

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


*Editor?s note: This is the first in a four-part series that takes a look at a person?s health from head to toe and discusses how one aspect of an individual?s health can have lasting affects in other areas.


The tooth fairy may only pay $1 a tooth, but Dr. Matthew Wettach, of Family Dental Health Services, says baby teeth are worth so much more when looking at an individual?s overall health.

?There?s a misnomer that baby teeth are not important since children go on to lose them,? said Wettach. But that?s far from the truth. First and foremost, baby teeth are a placeholder for their adult counterparts. ?The best way to maintain room for adult teeth is by keeping the baby teeth in place for as long as possible,? said Wettach. If a child begins to loose their teeth too early, it can cause crowding as their adult teeth begin to come in and that often means a trip to the orthodontist. Wettach said it?s not uncommon for a 13-year-old to still have a baby tooth or two.

Keeping baby teeth healthy also keeps them out of pain and discomfort, which means their first trip to the dentist will likely not leave a bad taste in their mouth.

A child?s first trip to the dentist, Wettach says, should not be when they?re in pain or discomfort, it should be as soon as their first tooth comes in ? anywhere between six months and one year. ?It helps to condition them to the dentist,? says Wettach. ?You start them young with a short appointment and then you get into a routine. It?s important to bring them in when there?s not a need for needles, pain or discomfort.?

Wettach says these early exams are done knee-to-knee. The child lays on their parent?s legs and places their hand on the dentist?s knees. ?It?s a little less intimidating,? says Wettach.

During the exam, Wettach assesses the child?s teeth to make sure they are coming in at a good pattern. If by one year of age a child has not developed their first tooth, Wettach says it?s important to still schedule a dentist appointment because abnormal tooth development could indicate other health concerns. ?By assessing their tooth development we have indications if the child?s heart or brain is also developing normally.

The appointment also allows Wettach to educate parents on how they can help keep their child?s teeth healthy. Wettach says parents can begin brushing a child?s teeth as early as age one or two. He advises using just a tad of toothpaste, just a small smear over the bristles. After the age of two, a pea-size amount is recommended. ?A lot of kids need assistance brushing their teeth even at ages six or seven. They need their parents to help out and make sure they?re cleaning all of the surfaces.?

Even past the age of seven, parents should check in to make sure their children are brushing their teeth and doing a good job.

Dentist appointments don?t become any less important as an individual ages. As patients get older, dentists begin to focus more on their gums, according to Wettach. ?We keep an eye on gum diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis,? he said.

Dental appointments are important during a woman?s pregnancy. ?During pregnancy it?s important to keep an eye on gum disease, like gingivitis, as it can predict pre-eclampsia (which is often characterized by high blood pressure).?

?Throughout an appointment we are always looking for other things,? Wettach says. Oral health is often tied to cardiovascular health. Gum disease is often an indicator of heart disease. The two are connected by the spread of bacteria, often originating in the oral cavity and then spreading through the bloodstream to the heart, according to Mayo Clinic.

Gum disease is also linked with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association it has long been known that individuals with diabetes have a higher likelihood of developing serious gum disease. However, it is also believed that individuals with periodontitis may have the potential to affect blood glucose control, which contributes to the progression of diabetes.

Dentists also check the mouth for oral cancer and if something is found, would then refer the patient to have a biopsy done.

In order to make sure an individual?s oral health, as well as overall health, stay positive, Wettach recommends having a cleaning done twice a year.