It began simply enough, an individual who has devoted his entire professional life to the prevention of injury and death, carelessly climbs an extension ladder with a chainsaw, ostensibly to cut a wrist sized limb that was impeding the view of Truman Lake behind his home. Just as he was reaching for the limb, the ladder shifted and there he was, suspended 10 or so feet off the ground, running saw in hand, thinking this is not going to end well. It did not, and the careless would-be lumberjack began the slow motion decent to Mother Earth, discarding the saw as he fell. The pain was immediate, comprehensive and accompanied by a nice bleed from the laceration to his jaw as he kissed the ladder upon impact. An ambulance ride to the ER and a follow up visit to a second ER the next day confirmed no broken bones, however……the soft tissue damage was such that he eased around on a walker for a couple of weeks and marveled at the brilliant hues of black, yellow and bright red that covered his back from the kidney area to his knees. The suture line was a testament to the skills of a testy young osteopath at ER #1, leaving a barely discernible scar. The kind ER #2 doctor advised the chainsaw crash dummy to seek the skills of a dentist who possessed the panoramic x-ray equipment necessary to ascertain the damage, if any, to the jaw and other facial structure. He did so and established a long relationship with one Dr. Ronald Massie, a Lake Ozark dentist who is now an integral part of his health care team. It is said that out of adversity comes opportunity, and the reward, in this instance, is a deep appreciation for the contribution of dentistry to my overall health. By now, you have guessed that I was the whizzo with the chainsaw.
The 18th century naturalist, George Cuvier, declared, “Show me your teeth, and I will tell you who you are.” George was onto something but it has taken awhile to understand this. Until very recently, traditional medical schools taught that practicing medicine was essentially a science devoted to the body from the tonsils out. A noted Harvard endocrinologist, William Hsu, refers to the mouth as the black hole of the body because it is a profound mystery to most medical folks. This is not the case with the superb folks who run the nation’s highest rated cardiology program at the Cleveland Clinic, who insisted on a thorough pre-surgical dental examination and clearance from Dr. Massie before they would crack my chest and repair the leaky mitral valve. These folks get it. The relationship between overall health and the mouth is finally earning the respect it deserves. Let’s have a look at some of the implications.
It is now believed that good oral hygiene is directly related to the health of the heart, to metabolism, to the brain and, sorry ladies for this little known tidbit, but the health of a man’s penis! Men may be able to minimize the effects of poor dental hygiene on the various systems that keep us alive……but few men are willing to risk the functioning of the seemingly center of our existence. While I am at it, men are not as careful with our health as women, statistically speaking, and this carelessness extends to our trips to the dental surgeons office. The average man brushes his teeth 1.9 times each day and will lose 5.4 teeth by age 72. If this same man smokes he can anticipate the loss of 12 teeth by age 72. Dipping, chewing and smoking greatly increase the incidence of oral and throat cancer and gum disease. These developing anomalies are easily detected by today’s dentists, especially those who are committed to the premise that oral health is critical to overall health. Dr. Massie conducts a thorough examination for anomalies that signal a potentially serious problem……such as, but not limited to, cancer. Dr. Wenche Borgnakke, a University of Michigan periodontal researcher, flatly states that nearly every medical condition has some kind of manifestation in the mouth. Your gums, if not properly taken care of, are the portal for a variety of dangerous bacteria that lead to inflammation in the body and inflammation is related to virtually every disease process that folks suffer through. There are definitive links between not just heart disease, but strokes, diabetes, perhaps even Alzheimer’s and oral health.
So, back in the day when dentistry was practiced by the local barber, who could also bleed you with a nice fat leech, presumably to take your mind off the extraction of a tooth using a pair of pliers that saw earlier service pulling nails from the manure covered hooves of your horse, George Cuvier was right in his suggestion that our mouth was a window into our health. My suggestion would be that you make your dentist a key member of your health care team, and facilitate the exchange of all health related information between your other medical team members and him or her. When you are grasping your chest and rapidly closing with the floor, your last thought should not be related to why you didn’t floss regularly……..
It is not too late to rethink dentistry……..