Periodontal Disease & Heart Disease you ask the SeNior questioN ~ We FiNd the SAVVy ANsWer Dear Savvy Senior, My wife’s sister recently told me that if I don’t start taking better care of my teeth I am going to have a heart attack. She told me what’s bad for my teeth and gums is bad for my heart too. Is this true, or is she just being my typical know-it-all in-law’ Also, I am 69 years old and I’m not sure if it’s my imagination or not but things just don’t taste as good as they use to. Can you tell me if our taste buds change as we get older’ Thank you, Tasteless Tom Dear Tasteless, It’s not your imagination! As our bodies age – they change! In other words, they ‘wear out’ – taste buds included. But it’s really our sense of smell that helps us to know the difference between foods. It is believed that about 90 percent of our ability to taste flavor can be attributed to smell. Here’s a few more tasty facts to chew on: ‘ Our sense of smell is at its peak performance when we are in our 30s, 40s and 50s. After age 60, taste and smell begin to gradually decline in most people as a result of the normal aging process. ‘We start out in life with about 10,000 taste buds scattered on the tongue. Each area of the tongue can distinguish certain taste: sweet on the tip, sour on the sides, bitter on the back and salty around the front. Know-It-All Sister In-law’ In this case – she’s right! Studies increasingly show a connection between good gums and good overall health, linking gum disease, otherwise known as periodontal disease, to a variety of systemic problems, including heart disease and stroke. Early gum disease starts with plaque, the invisible, sticky film of bacteria that sets up house on your tooth enamel. As plaque hardens into tartar, it attracts more than 350 possible varieties of bacteria. As bacteria-rich tartar travels below the gumline, a more advanced gum disease called periodontitis begins (infection of the gum, bone, and other tissue surrounding the tooth). Savvy Study: An accumulating body of evidence suggests that periodontal infection may contribute to arteriosclerotic heart diseases. In a recent University of Michigan study involving 400 men 60 and older, researchers found that those suffering from advanced periodontal disease were four and a half times more likely to have coronary heart disease than those without gum disease. The reason periodontal disease is so hard on your heart is because people with gum disease tend to have high blood levels of fibrinogen, a molecule that can cause clotting, and C-reactive protein, an inflammatory molecule. Also, a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people with periodontal disease may have higher levels of cholesterol. The same molecules that affect your heart can also block the blood flow to your brain, which can increase your risk of stroke. That’s not good news, since the National Stroke Association estimates that clots or blockages in arteries account for 80 percent of all strokes. Note For Diabetics: Researchers have found that uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a higher risk of gum disease, which in turn, can make diabetes more problematic, since severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar. Tips To Beat Bacteria: With good brushing and flossing habits, and semiannual dental visits, gum disease can usually be prevented or controlled. Here are a few extra tips to keep your mouth and your bloodstream free of plaque: ‘Water Pik: The force of the water knocks out the plaque byproducts that help bacteria become anaerobic – which are the destructive bacteria. Simply drinking water can also help your gums. Oral bacteria love dry mouth, which is often caused by smoking, alcohol, and normal aging. ‘Rubber-Tipped Stimulator: If you have closely spaced teeth or fillings that catch floss, try using a rubber-tipped stimulator (or soft balsa toothpick). Both are useful in maneuvering around concave, hard-to-reach tooth surfaces like molars. ‘Check Your Medicine: If you take the drug nifedipine for high blood pressure, you may be more susceptible to gum disease. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, 20 to 40 percent of nifedipine users experience enlarged, bleeding gums. Visit the dentist regularly to prevent swelling and infection. This information was obtained in part from AARP. See their Web site at www.aarp.org. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.