Previously posted in Huffington Post on December 13, 2016
I went to the dentist for my six month check up last week. I didn’t want to be there. Are you surprised? I hate all of the poking and scraping. It was also the day before my daughter’s 14th birthday. I had stuff to do, and places to be. I didn’t have time for this.
So, to keep my mind off of the scraping and poking, I started to wonder what would happen if I just left. Seriously, who needs this? What could possibly go wrong?
I stayed put, but afterwards, I did a little research. The Oral Health Foundation claims that the mouth is one of the dirtiest parts of the body, so maybe there is some merit to getting it professionally cleaned. Poor oral hygiene can lead to heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and lung conditions.
But wait. The American Heart Association contends that there is not enough research to conclude that good oral hygiene prevents heart disease or strokes. So, should I stay or should I go?
Taking off probably won’t kill me, but, it could make my life a little more challenging for things like chewing food.
Experts recommend that we take 100 bites per day (or chews). Most of us don’t do that. Who has time to chew that much? If we did, we would chew 36,500 per year. As the average life expectancy in the U.S. is seventy-nine, our lifetime chew average would be around 2.88 million.
That seems like a lot for something where the consequences are not grave. Not the chewing; all of the maintenance and cleaning.
We are supposed to go the dentist when we get our first tooth. So, if we start at age 1 and live to seventy-nine, we will spend 78 hours sitting in a dentist’s chair – just for hygiene visits! That doesn’t even count all of the brushing and flossing we do at home. OK, nobody really flosses.
I am pro dentist and pro good oral hygiene. I even floss. I’m just struck by the emphasis that we place on good oral hygiene compared to let’s say . . . heart health.
That’s really what was bothering me in the chair. Realizing that my kids get a thorough oral exam twice a year, but they will never be offered a thorough heart exam. For the heart, they will get evaluated only if they complain of symptoms. That usually happens much later in life, and then the damage has already be done.
Why do we practice prevention in oral hygiene but not in cardiac care? We don’t wait for tooth pain to visit a dentist. However, we require pain or discomfort before visiting a cardiologist.
This defies common sense and logic. The heart beats about 35 million times a year or 2,765,000,000 times over the average life span. (That’s almost 1000 times more beating than chewing).
Let’s imagine that we implemented a dental model for cardiology. Once a year, students will receive a thorough cardiac evaluation. A technician, using an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram, will examine the heart. The student will exercise on a treadmill so their pulse and recovery can be evaluated. There is still be time to measure blood pressure and weight. Finally, we can draw blood for cholesterol. We look for plaque on teeth twice a year. It makes sense to look for it in the arteries too. We will compare findings year after year, like they do at the dentist. Why is it that we pay more attention to our teeth than our heart?
Heart conditions are the most common birth defect. They are linked to up to 15% of all SIDS deaths. They lead to the #1 cause of death of student athletes. They are behind the #1 cause of death of adults in this country, approximately 350,000 each year.
If we believe that regular dental visits can prevent cavities and gum disease, promote better health, and keep costs down, imagine what regular cardiac evaluations could prevent.