(excerpted from Dr. Parkins’ The Smart Dental Patient’s Guide to Nearly Everything)

Chapter 1


Wow, what a story this is going to be, saving lives in the dental office. Sure, dental office personal are CPR trained and yes many have an AED device to shock your heart if necessary to save your life and they would be good people to have around in an emergency, but that is not what this chapter is all about. I am writing to you about the connection between your dental health and literally how long you live and how comfortable your life will be.

As part of every adult examination in my office my patients stick their tongues out. They are not trying to make a social statement, no they are helping me do a thorough tissue screening for any signs of mouth cancer and the tongue and the back of the throat are prime spots to check for mouth cancer along with the back of the throat. Mouth cancer doesn’t get the press that some other cancers do but don’t be fooled by this: it is a killer.


Did you know that more people die from oral cancer (8,000 to 10,000 deaths) than from cervical cancer or melanoma, which is a serious skin cancer? Early detection is critical to reducing the death rate.

Here are the risk factors associated with oral cancer!

  • Tobacco use
  • 40+ years of age
  • Men twice as often as women
  • African Americans are moresusceptible than Caucasian Americans
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Compromised immune system
  • Damaging exposure to sunlight


What may be surprising is that 25% of all oral cancers occur in people who have NONE of the risk factors! A thorough oral cancer screening at each dental exam is a prudent way of helping ensure that a patient’s life could be saved with early detection. A while back we discovered a small lump in the corner of a patients’ mouth. The biopsy determined that cancer was present. Early detection coupled with removal of the lump and associated lymph nodes by the surgeon saved the life of a 33 year old man with a young family. Routine dental visits combined with routine cancer screenings made this a story with a happy ending. We now use the advanced early cancer detection device called a Velscope which uses fluorescence of the mouth to detect unhealthy tissue. Healthy tissue fluoresces and cancer cells and damaged tissue do not. Many offices provide this cancer detecting procedure at no additional cost with each examination.

In life saving, oral cancer is just the beginning!


Do you want to add over six years to your life?

Dr. Michael Roize, University of Chicago internist has been making headlines with his “real age” program, which he designed to provide a person with a valid age reduction plan. You may have read about it or seen him on Oprah or 20/20 or you may even have purchased his book. Maybe you were surprised that flossing and brushing ranks right up there with quitting smoking, taking your vitamins and reducing stress as one of the five things you can do to reduce your “real age”

In fact keeping your teeth and gums healthy helps you add over 6 years to your life! How so? Just keep reading!

The nation’s number one cause of death is heart disease! One out of every two women will die of this disease. Did you know that there is a


strong connection between people with gum disease (a serious bacterial infection that destroys the attachment fibers and supporting bone that holds your teeth in your mouth) and people that suffer heart disease? The risk of heart attack and stroke is about twice as high in people with periodontal (gum) disease. It seems that certain bacteria involved in gum disease can also damage the lining of blood vessels which can cause the formation of potentially fatal blood clots. There is a protein formed in the body called C- Reactive Protein that has been implicated in causing damage to blood vessels and to the heart. It is a product of chronic infection which accurately describes gum disease. This may also help explain why approximately 50% of the heart attack victims didn’t have high blood pressure.

These same heart damaging and stroke causing bacteria can also cause lung infections. Gum disease bacteria have been implicated in bacterial pneumonia and also they are apparently a cause of chronic


obstructive pulmonary disease, (COPD). The research in these areas is ongoing.

In a letter I received from Peggy Fleming in October of 2004 she stated “stroke is the number one reason that people move into nursing homes and the third leading cause of death in the United States” She stated further “50% of all strokes occur in people who show no symptoms.” Peggy, having had serious health problems in her own life, encourages everyone to have screenings done to possibly save their own life or the life of a loved one. Needless to say, a stroke or multiple strokes can end a persons’ life or seriously reduce the quality of its victims’ remaining months or years.

There is more!

Did you know that 12% of the babies born in the United States are born prematurely? (Before 37 weeks of pregnancy) which increases their risk of death and lasting disabilities. These include


mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lung and gastrointestinal problems, vision and hearing loss, all of which are horrible to contemplate in the life of children and for their parents! Pre-term, births have soared to become the #1 obstetric problem in the U.S. Research has shown that this can probably be avoided by simply seeing a dentist for a periodontal examination before and during pregnancy. The recommendation during pregnancy is to have a visit with the hygienist every three months which is only one more visit than the every six month recommendation for routine preventive dental care! Recently insurance companies, recognizing the health benefits for expectant mothers, are covering the additional hygiene visit.

Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that is born too early or too small. Research shows that the bacteria that cause periodontal (gum) infections cause a faster-than-normal increase in the levels of prostaglandin and other factors that cause


labor to start early, leading to premature delivery. Getting rid of the bacteria that cause this condition through a simple procedure called scaling and root planning is the key to an on time delivery and a healthy baby. This common dental procedure has been shown to reduce a mother’s chance of having a pre-term birth by up to 84%. The second trimester is a safe time during pregnancy to do dental procedures. After all, every mother wants to have a healthy baby!

So what are some of the signs of gum disease?

  • Bleeding gums while brushing
  • Red swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that recede away from the tooth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Pus between the teeth and gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • A change in the feel of your biteThere are currently ongoing studies looking at a possible oral health connection with such general health


areas as arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. The scientific researchers have made some startling discovers in the last decade with more to come, I am sure.

Should you now find yourself motivated to want to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and take care of the rest of your body at the same time, it’s almost as simple as regular brushing and flossing. Some suggestions that will be well worth your time and effort are:

  • Use a soft tooth brush and toss it when the bristles fray
  • Use a fluoride or xylitol containing toothpaste to reduce cavities
  • Brush gently, angling toward the gums for about 2 minutes
  • Gently floss (Glide is a good brand) between each tooth
  • Check your brushing with a disclosing solution or tablet ( if in doubt)
  • Stop using tobacco products (dentists can help)


  • Watch for signs of gum disease. (see page 15)
  • Be aware of habits such as destructive teeth grinding (dentists can help).
  • Some drugs such as contraceptives, antidepressants and heart medicines can negatively affect your oral health by reducing saliva flow which dries the mouth.
  • Regular hygiene visits and maintenance visits are some of your weapons against gum disease.I read an insurance article recently entitled “The True Cost of a Cavity” The article explained that the average cost to maintain a restored cavity (filling) in the molar of a ten year old reaches $2,187 by the time he or she is age 79. Dr. Max Anderson explains in the article, “There are currently no permanent materials available to treat cavities, so the lifetime cost of maintaining teeth that have been treated for decay far outpaces any out of pocket costs you might spend to prevent decay in the first place. When a patient works with his or her dentist, cavities are almost entirely preventable.”

Add the latest information on soft drinks to the things you can do, or in this case leave out, in order to keep your mouth healthy. Be aware that the decay rate has shot way up, back to pre-fluoride days. Soft drinks are being blamed for this large upsurge in teenage and adult tooth decay. The average consumption of soft drinks in the U.S. in 2002 was approximately 53 gallons per person per year. That is 16 ounces per day. Realize that some people drink no soft drinks, while others drink several cans a day. Typically soft drinks consumed at mealtime are less injurious than those gradually consumed over time. Continuous sipping is considered more harmful to teeth than drinking an entire beverage at once. The acid content has been implicated as the cause of decay even more than the sugar and corn syrup in the sodas.

Most soft drinks contain one or more food acids; phosphoric and citric acids are

common, but malic, tartaric and organic acids also may be present. These acids cause tooth erosion, and irreversible, painless loss of tooth enamel. There is no question that erosion causes significant damage to dental enamel, particularly among young people. Understand that bacteria work to get through the enamel, which has little “food value” for them where as the inner part of a tooth, the dentin, seems to be more to their liking. Acid erosion makes their job a lot easier and so the decay rate skyrockets!


Tap water and root beer have little to no effect on enamel. Brewed black tea and black coffee dissolve enamel several times faster than water. Cola drinks dissolved enamel 55-65 times faster than water and root beer. Non-cola drinks were 90-180 times faster at dissolving enamel than water! IT DID NOT MATTER IF THE

SOFT DRINK WAS A DIET OR REGULAR VERSION! Root beer appears to be the least damaging soft drink for the health of tooth enamel while non cola drinks including canned ice tea such as ‘Arizona Brand’ were worse. Sports drinks, “energy drinks, such as Gatorade, Red Bull, and the Snapple tea products contain a greater amount of acid. There are numerous other reasons to avoid soft drinks in our diet, such as the epidemic of diabetes occurring in America. Suffice it to say ongoing research is painting a not so pretty picture of soft drinks and health. So” a word to the wise” as they say. What you decide to do is up to you!

This chapter was written in the hope that it would arm you with information that would enable you to make wise decisions regarding your dental health and as you can now see these decisions have a major impact on your general health and quality of life as well. Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic fame, stated years ago from his observations over the course of his practice life that a healthy mouth added ten years to a person’s life. I believe that he was correct. Now you also know how to add a decade and a healthy decade, not one in a nursing home, to your life. Go for it, make those changes.


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