Brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups may help save your life
With the everyday stresses of life it’s easy to take dental health for granted and put regular checkups at the bottom of an ever-expanding to-do list, especially if you don’t feel any tooth pain.
Despite spending a small fortune on orthodontic work for my daughter, I ignored my own dental health for fifteen years, regularly skipping dental checkups.
It wasn't until a tooth fell out earlier this year that I had the biggest health shock of my life.
It was the wake-up call that I needed to start looking after my teeth.
Advanced gum disease
Furthermore, because I had left it untreated for so long it was in advanced stages called periodontitis and the only treatment option open to me was to have some of my teeth extracted.
If that seems drastic, costly and painful - it was!
But it was largely due to years of neglect and not having regular dental checkups. If I’d gone to the dentist for a regular check up once or twice a year, they may have been able to catch my gum disease early on and treat it without having to remove my teeth.
Possible link between dental health and heart health
In between making dental appointments and that first dental visit, I woke up one night to a thumping, racing heart beat. I did what a lot of women my age do and put it down to the menopause, along with the hot flushes.
Later that week I got heartburn. I never get heartburn. Then I got heartburn with a racing heartbeat and I knew something was terribly wrong.
I visited my GP who referred me to a cardiologist who told me I had an infection in the lining of my heart (bacterial endocarditis).
Bacterial endocarditis is usually caused when bacteria spreads from another area of your body through your bloodstream to the heart. If left untreated it can damage or destroy your heart.
It seems the infection in my gums didn’t just affect my oral health!
Luckily I caught it in time and thanks to the combined efforts of my GP, cardiologist and dentist I’m now out of the woods.
My heartbeat is steady again, the chest pains have gone and my last electrocardiogram (ECG) gave my doctor cause to smile. It could easily have become far more serious. Permanently serious.
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Wake up call to make healthier changes
So, two months after that torrid wake-up call, I'm slowly recovering and using this experience as the opportunity it is.
While I have always eaten well, I’m even more mindful of the importance of eating a balanced diet and cutting down on things like added sugar, salt and saturated fat.
I’m also trying to exercise each day by going for a walk in the morning. Admittedly it's a short walk along flat ground. But now I’ve built up my stamina a bit, I want to tackle a long uphill section, once I get the all-clear from my doctor to exercise a little harder.
The changes I've gone through, though slow, will have a nice by-product of a shiny, new smile and a reduced waistline, but for once, that's not the most important benefit. I am exercising for energy and for heart health but even that is not the most important benefit to me.
No, by far the greatest benefit to this recalcitrant, reluctant body is that I'm exercising for mindfulness. I'm tuning in and I'm steadily being re-introduced to the workings of my magnificent body and for that alone, I'm amazed and profoundly grateful.
Sandra’s tips for dental and heart health
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