Understanding Oral Health: What Are Your Teeth Trying to Tell You?

Jack is a high-profile CEO. Jack’s very outgoing, always entertaining, constantly traveling, and making deals happen. He’s a busy guy, so it was hard for him to get to the dentist. I warned Jack about the connection between oral health and heart disease, but he shrugged it off. After all, he was only forty-five. He’d say, “Doc, you’re a dentist, right? I see a cardiologist and everything is fine.”

One day, I got a call at the office. My assistant told me that it was Jack and that his call was important.

“Hey, Jack! It’s been a few years, how are you?” I asked.

He replied, “I could be better.”

I said, “What’s going on?”

“You wouldn’t believe it. I had a heart attack!”

For many years, even within the dental profession, it was assumed that your oral health had only a tangential effect on your overall health. We now know better; poor oral health, along with the resulting gum disease, releases bacteria into our systems that create many potentially life-threatening diseases and disorders. Among these are:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Emphysema
  • Hepatitis C
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Shortened lifespan

Why are people so flaky about taking care of themselves and their oral hygiene? Even my own patients will dutifully follow the prescribed schedule of visits, exams, and cleanings for a while and then slack off because they’re so busy or they aren’t in any actual pain. It’s easy to just put it off. Too many of us subscribe to the adage of “Out of sight, out of mind.”

However, even if you feel great and look great, those bacteria are multiplying in your mouth and damage is being done. Yes, you had a thorough cleaning. Yes, you’re good about your oral hygiene, but not staying focused on the care of your mouth will cost you more in both time and money later.

How do you know if you’ve got potentially dangerous bacterial levels in your teeth and gums? One sign is waking up with bad breath, or with a bitter taste in your mouth. If you have either of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s time to get your checkup! If you’re not flossing at night, you should be. Bacteria love a dry breeding ground, and your mouth is a dry breeding ground when you’re sleeping. Bacteria take that opportunity to multiply. Whether you’re using dental floss or a WaterPik, make sure you use it before you go to bed.

Other symptoms of bacterial buildup include discolored teeth, swollen gums, or blood in your spit when you brush. A sharp pain in your teeth when you drink something hot or cold is a sign of trouble you shouldn’t ignore. Waking up with general pain in your teeth and/or gums is a loud message that it’s time to take better care of your mouth.

Your teeth are trying to tell you something—and you’d better listen.


First featured on Forbesbooks.com