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Dr. Mark Burhenne

Dentist and Co-founder of AskTheDentist.com

“Things that happen in the mouth affect everything else in the body.”

Regular visits to the dentist won’t just help you maintain your pearly whites, but also play a pivotal role in improving your overall health as well. 

“Things that happen in the mouth affect everything else in the body,” said Dr. Mark Burhenne, dentist and co-founder of AskTheDentist.com.

Tending to your oral health is key in helping prevent not only mouth ailments, such as gum disease, but also Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, suggested a June 2017 article in the Journal of Oral Microbiology.

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A March 2018 survey by the American Dental Association showed that 42 percent of Americans aren’t seeing their doctors as often as they’d like. The fact that health insurance plans treat dentistry as a separate entity from other aspects of medicine may play a role.

“Medical insurance covers the whole body, but physicians are not allowed to treat gum disease, for example,” Burhenne said. “Then you have dental insurance — it’s not really insurance; it’s just a benefit, you’ve got a 1,500 or 2,000 [dollars] maximum” to spend per year, he added.

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One way that patients can take matters into their own hands is by requesting a gum disease screening, which involves measuring the pockets of air around each tooth. Burhenne said the annual screening usually takes between five and ten minutes, and “can have huge implications for your health, especially as you age.”

Before gum disease strikes  

He encouraged patients, dentists and physicians — who often aren’t trained in oral health practices —  to educate themselves about the symptoms, causes, and prevention of gum disease. Smoking, grinding your teeth, improperly brushing or flossing, and nighttime mouth breathing, which can expose the body to harmful bacteria, may cause gum disease.

Parents can help their children build good oral hygiene habits by making brushing and flossing fun. For adults, Burhenne said, having a dialogue with your healthcare team about your gum disease risk is key. That personal education can help save you time and money. “If you have gum disease, you’re going to see your dentist every three months,” he said. “If you’re healthy, you can see your dentist once or twice a year.

Melinda Carstensen, [email protected]

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