To be completely clear, most people do not enjoy visiting the doctor. By simple admission, for the most pat visiting the doctor is an admittance that something might be wrong with us. And while we certainly do not want to detract from all the doctors in this world who do incredible, brilliant and in many cases, life-saving work, there is one type of doctor that people seem to loathe the most – the dentist.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 50,000 people die each year from pneumonia. And while that statistic might initially seem unrelated, according to a recent study from Virginia Commonwealth University, skipping your regular dentist appointments can increase your risk of the potentially deadly lung infection known by 86%.
It’s not uncommon for small amounts of saliva and other “oral secretions” to slip down your throat and into your lungs, says Michelle Doll, MD, first author of the study and an assistant professor of infectious diseases at VCU. “This is called aspiration,” she explains.
Normally, aspiration isn’t a big deal. But if your saliva is loaded with harmful bacteria or other pathogens, aspiration can result in pneumonia, Doll says.
While brushing your teeth twice a day is the cornerstone of oral hygiene, those twice-yearly visits to a dentist’s office are critical. “Regular dental care decreases dental defects were “bad” bacteria can accumulate in large quantities,” Doll explains.
This is the reality – no matter how often or thoroughly you brush your teeth, you simply can’t remove plaque. “Plaque is a hard substance that slowly accumulates on your teeth,” says Timothy Kosinski, DDS, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. To remove plaque—and prevent the decay and disease it causes—you need a dentist’s help, he says. (That’s what your dentist is doing when he or she scrapes your teeth with that little hook-shaped tool.)
However, it isn’t only pneumonia that you have to worry about if you skip the dentist. According to a recent study in the Journal of Dental Research, a direct link was found between poor oral hygiene and heart disease. This happens by bacterial infections in the mouth that promote a constant and systemic inflammation, which in turn, can cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries. When this happens, a person likely hood of experiencing a stroke or heart attack increase.
So while the dentist is by and far not a fan favorite in terms of medical professionals, they are more important than you likely think.