I’d like to share some information with you about men’s health. This discussion was triggered, ironically, by some great news about women. Research published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Periodontology confirms once again something that most dentists already recognize – women are more proactive than men in maintaining their oral health. Not only that, but numerous studies including one from the Centers for Disease Control show that women generally are more knowledgeable about health issues and take better care of themselves. Because oral health and general health are so inextricably interlinked, I would really like to see men catch up.
For one thing, men go through many life stages that involve hormonal fluctuations, just as women do. Adolescence immediately comes to mind, but andropause, the male menopause, is also a normal stage of male development characterized by gradual hormonal, physiological, and chemical changes that may put men at risk for health problems like cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis, both of which have been linked with gum disease which can flare up when hormones are in flux.
Men also get another disease that is more commonly and erroneously associated only with women – osteoporosis (the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time). If the level of calcium, the main nutritional mineral needed for building strong teeth and bones which contain 99% of the body’s supply, does not remain constant and adequate, your body will pull it from your bones. (About 1% of calcium circulates in the blood to aid heart function, blood clotting, the conduction of nerve impulses and muscle contraction.) In addition to osteoporosis, inadequate calcium intake has also been linked to hypertension and toxemia in pregnancy which is characterized by high blood pressure.
Here are some facts and statistics from the National Osteoporosis Foundation…
> Up to one in four men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
> Approximately two million North American men already have osteoporosis. About 12 million more are at risk.
> Men older than 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer.
> Each year, about 80,000 men will break a hip.
> Men are more likely than women to die within a year after breaking a hip.
What puts men at risk? As I mentioned earlier, a diet that contains inadequate calcium can contribute to the problem, and in general, experts believe that North Americans do not consume enough calcium each day. Other factors include your family history, steroid medicines, and lifestyle issues such as lack of exercise, tobacco, alcohol consumption, and having low testosterone or estrogen levels can put you at risk. So does having medical problems such as chronic kidney, respiratory diseases, or cancers, and certain autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. These are all inflammatory diseases which have been linked to gum disease which, like osteoporosis, can arrive without symptoms and can lead to loss of jawbone density and tooth loss.
I can almost hear you thinking, “Why does gum disease keep coming up in a discussion of general health?” You may have noticed how I’ve been pointing out that many systemic problems are inflammatory in nature. Gum disease is actually a chronic bacterial infection which, like other infections, will eventually cause redness and inflammation. If left untreated it will damage the gums and bone supporting the teeth, eventually leading to tooth loss. Toxic oral bacteria can travel to other parts of your body and have been found in areas as diverse as amniotic fluid and in arterial plaque. In fact, as science discovers more about the inflammatory nature of many diseases, gum disease is being linked to an increasingly comprehensive list of conditions including those cited above.
How do you avoid gum disease? With good home-care routines and regular dental visits to remove dental plaque, the sticky colorless bacterial film that is constantly forming on your teeth. Plaque buildup can lead to the earliest and mildest form of the disease – gingivitis. Although it begins with no obvious symptoms, during this stage, the gum tissue can swell, turn red, and bleed easily, causing little or no discomfort. Gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment and good at-home oral hygiene. Without this care, you may put yourself at risk for more severe forms of gum disease.
So to all of you men out there – there are more reasons to come and see me than getting a great looking smile to compete in the work force… Women seem to have gotten it right and I know that you can, too. Please see me and your physician on a regular basis and think seriously about making lifestyle changes that could improve your health. Approaches such as optimal diet, regular exercise, and stress management, as well as a reduction in tobacco and alcohol intake, are all excellent prescriptions for good oral health as well as general health.
Call our office for more information on how this could affect you or your loved ones.