Ask The Dentist: Look after your mouth and it will look after your body

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, reminds us it's important to look after our mouths for the sake of our health

Maintaining good dental hygiene helps to promote general good health
Maintaining good dental hygiene helps to promote general good health

RECENTLY, after discovering that I was a dentist, an acquaintance of mine stated that he thought of dentists as "failed doctors". I countered that I didn’t feel like a failure, while at the same time musing on whether the sweetie mice were bumping into each other as they scurried about in his head.

I've always been interested in when and why dentists and doctors became so dissociated. It’s as if the mouth became a separate entity to the rest of the body and was viewed as walking around on its own on stilts.

The first professional 'dentists' were known as barber-surgeons in the 13th century. They were responsible for fun sounding treatments such as 'bleeding', 'cupping' and 'leeching', also giving enemas and extracting teeth. Hence the red and white poles that hang outside barber’s salons to this day. Only in the early 18th century did the exclusive profession of dentistry emerge.

The pivotal moment of the mouth/body disconnection occurred in 1840. American dentists, Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden approached the medics at the University of Maryland in Baltimore with the idea of adding dental instruction to their medical course.

However, this was met with a swift rebuttal as the doctors believed dentistry to be unworthy of scientific inclusion in the field of medicine. This prompted Harris and Hayden to set up the first dental college and cemented the two different ideological motorways of dentistry and medicine.

The tiny fly in the ointment is that the body never disconnected the mouth from itself. It is not floating on its own, in fact it is intimately connected with an impressive network of arteries, veins, nerves, lymph vessels, muscles and ligaments.

The proof is in the pudding, with patients being treated in hospitals for all manner of ailments connected to dental infections. Researchers have found that sepsis infections caused by dental problems, which can lead to limb loss and even death, are on the rise – up 40 per cent in less than a decade.

Gum disease is linked to a whole host of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, as well as premature births, while diabetics get worse when their mouth is infected.

So, look after your mouth and it will look after your body.