Q: My father-in-law refuses to go to the dentist. Will you tell him why maintaining good oral hygiene is important?  He reads this column but won’t listen to me.

A: Many people don’t realize the health of your mouth, teeth and gums can affect your general health. Your mouth harbors bacteria, just like many other parts of your body.  Most of the bacteria is harmless and can be kept under control with proper brushing and flossing and your body’s normal defenses.  But with poor and inconsistent oral hygiene, the bacteria can reach levels that may cause tooth decay, oral infection and gum disease.

Certain medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants, decongestants, painkillers and diuretics can decrease the production of saliva in the mouth.  Saliva helps to wash away food and neutralizes acids that are produced by bacteria that can cause infection and illness.  As saliva decreases, the risk of infection or illness increases.

Some medical conditions and diseases have been linked to oral health.

  • Diabetes results from insufficient production of insulin — and it increases a person’s risk of infection. Gum disease is more frequent and more severe in people with diabetes. Diabetes patients with gum disease have a more difficult time controlling their blood sugar levels.
  • Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones. This weakening can cause periodontal bone loss and even tooth loss.
  • Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers or endocardium. It may occur when bacteria from other parts of your body, often the mouth, enters the bloodstream.  Patients with certain heart conditions may be prescribed an antibiotic prior to dental procedures.

There are a few other conditions that may be related to oral health including, rheumatoid arthritis,  eating disorders, and certain cancers.  This is why it is so important to discuss your medical history with your dentist and make them aware of the medications (or changes in medication) you are taking.

We all slip up occasionally, but here’s a quick to-do list to protect your teeth and oral health.

  • Brush your teeth AT LEAST twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • Follow brushing with mouthwash to remove any remaining food particles
  • Schedule (and keep) regular dental visits and cleanings
  • Replace your toothbrush every three months (soft bristle recommended)
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit sugary foods and drinks
  • Avoid tobacco use

Want more information on dental care and oral health? Visit One Senior Place in Viera on February 7th for “Ask the Doctor” with Dr. Michael Fowler, DMD, as he answers questions on dentistry and oral health.


One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to, call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Lisa Conway is a Registered Nurse and a Certified Care Manager for Senior Partner Care Services, Viera.