When I was a student at Boys’ High School in Brooklyn, I worked for Singer and Fritzhand Dental Laboratory from 8 a.m. to noon. My duties were to deliver dentures and to clean up the plaster splattered on the surfaces in the lab and on the floor. Before leaving for school, I also had to get their lunch. This was my introduction to the field of dentistry.
During my sojourn through medical school at Downstate Medical College in Brooklyn, I can’t remember ever receiving a lecture by a dentist on the need for determining the health of the mouth as a whole.
When there seems to be an unsolvable problem, I am sure you have heard the expression, “You have to put your teeth into it,” to bring it under control. Well, diabetes is a serious health problem and must be recognized and treated properly. There are at least 17 million people in the U.S. under treatment for this disease, with untold millions undiagnosed. Diabetes affects many organ systems throughout the body, such as the eyes, cardiovascular system, immune system and even the tissues and bone that surround the teeth. However, if you really “put your teeth into controlling diabetes,” and chew on it diligently, you will enjoy longevity of your choppers.
The mouth is full of all kinds of germs that affect the gums, teeth and the sockets in the gums that hold the teeth in place. The gums and teeth float all day in a sea of germs, tobacco products, sugary drinks and alcohol. It is impossible to kill these germs no matter which mouthwash you use. In fact, mouthwashes that have a high alcohol content will dry out the mouth and make it easier for germs to grow.
When I was a kid, instead of getting good dental care, tooth pain was treated with medication to numb the pain. A rare visit to the dentist usually meant an extraction or a filling, the former being a more common practice. In medical school, examining the mouth meant only to look at the coating on the tongue after asking the patient to say “Ahh.”
Modern dentistry has advanced to a point where almost every tooth is salvageable. Today, dental care involves not only caring for the teeth but also understanding systemic diseases, such as diabetes, that affect the health of the teeth. Dentists now practice taking a good health history before any procedure is done. Some dentists may screen a patient right in the office for diabetes by determining the level of glucose in the blood by a simple stick of the finger. They are aware that keeping blood sugar under control will ensure a better outcome of a dental procedure.
Dentists are concerned whether a patient is on chemotherapy or has an autoimmune disease such as lupus or blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia or leukemia. Recently it has been shown that folks who kiss their pet animals may become infected with a bacteria that can cause gum and dental disease. I suggest kissing a baby or relative may be more healthy.
Finally, if you are a diabetic, it is important to keep this condition under control since the health of gums and teeth depend on it. “Put your teeth into diabetes” and “chew on it,” and your smile will be healthier and brighter.