Lavina (not real name) was an absolutely stunning, smart and petite lady. When she grinned she revealed an attractive set of pearly whites, set in dark gums, and a small gap between the front teeth. Her contemporaries, regarded her as slimmer, fitter and more beautiful.
She had last visited Code clinic 5 years ago for a tooth repair following a fall and fracture of her front tooth.
Just like many others, she dreaded dental visits because of past intimidating experiences during childhood, and she had evaded all attempts to get her back into the dental chair. But one night, she couldn’t stand the excruciating pain rising from one side of her jaw that radiated into the ear, throat and surrounding areas. No amount of painkillers could bring relief and I was surprised to find her waiting outside our gate early in the morning. We discovered that she had a bad tooth and removed it. She would return a week later for more procedures to try and save the rest of the teeth that were being ravaged by gum disease .Little did I know that would be the last time I saw her alive because three weeks later she suffered two strokes and a heart attack and died within four days. She had just turned 57.
Dentists have known for a long time that gum disease is a recipe for heart attacks and stroke but it has always been a challenge convincing people that something as painless as gum disease is life threatening. Well until recently it was hard to prove but now we have overwhelming evidence that gum disease is a cause of heart disease and stroke. A study reported in the journal, Circulation, found that 50% of heart attacks were caused by mouth bacteria which would only end up in the heart’s blood vessels if one had gum disease or long standing tooth decay. Diagnostic tests to prove that mouth bacteria are out of the normal range are also available now and can be conducted before treating gum disease and after to prove that the bacteria have reduced to a level that cannot cause damage to the body.
Had I been equipped with all this evidence in 2015 then I would have probably convinced Lavina to take gum disease seriously and she would still be alive.
I have since resolved to do everything possible to tell who ever cares to listen about the danger we face from bad oral health and how it affects general health; from affecting pregnancies and stopping conception, causing Premature births, Hypertension, Stroke, Heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, Arthritis, to mention but a few.
As a dentist I find myself saving more lives these days than teeth. I had only signed up to save teeth in medical school (I always wanted to save lives but was not willing to go through the night duty challenge, so I opted for dentistry, where I didn’t have to work at unfavorable hours. So far it has been rewarding never having to be engaged in work at night.) But things have changed, I cannot treat teeth alone and ignore the glaring signs I find in the mouth indicating that there’s trouble elsewhere in the body.
In his end of year address to the nation, the president mentioned that Ugandans are now dying more from “diseases of prosperity” commonly referred to as Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) or lifestyle diseases. I can say this is true as we see many people spending their days sitting in seminars and workshops munching away at samosas, chapatis and cakes.
It’s very interesting to see parliamentary committee sessions where the table is overlaid with flasks and snacks all over and one wonders whether the session is a buffet or a serious meeting.
Now combine obesity with dirty teeth and you have a recipe for impending disaster in form of stroke, diabetes and heart attacks.
American cardiologists, Bradley Bale and Amy Doneen ,who were involved in the study which proved that gum disease is a cause of heart attacks, actually guarantee that no one in their care will succumb to a heart attack or stroke as they go about saving lives by dealing with all the possible root causes. That is one bold guarantee.
One area they emphasize is treatment of the painless gum disease and decayed teeth.
Eating a burger won’t make you drop dead suddenly,the same applies for long standing gum disease. It’s just one of the ingredients needed to brew trouble as you age.
Next time i will tell you about the success we had with Mr.Karina who is happy to have stable blood pressure after battling tooth loss and gum disease for years.
The teeth may not hurt but carry coatings of visible dirt, the gums bleed. The mouth sometimes smells .The gum recedes and the teeth change position and crowd up, all this time screaming to the owner that please seek dental attention but many choose to ignore.
Will you be different this year? Do you want to live a long healthy life free of daily pills? Do you want to keep your teeth for life? If your answer is yes then you are advised to see your dentist and get back on track. Do not stay in the club of the gravediggers….