Ever since I began seeing patients in my new position at Montefiore medical center, I’ve been surprised by how many patients have missing teeth. In fact, many have no teeth at all, and often have to wear dentures, especially if they’re in the elderly years. Not too surprisingly, these same patients also have a number of chronic medical conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, as well as numerous medications for these respective conditions. Many are obese.
Being in a major tertiary-care referral-based hospital, it’s expected that patients will have complex medical issues. But this observation only supports what dentists have been saying for years—that poor dental health equals poor general health. Not only do I see multiple missing teeth, there’s also significant jaw narrowing and crowding of the soft tissues of the mouth. Having smaller airways due to missing teeth and smaller jaws can aggravate significant medical problems, such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
We’re seeing an epidemic of jaw underdevelopment these days, with dental crowding and numerous orthodontic and airway issues that arise as a result. The rise in premature babies, modern feeding habits, nutritional factors, and various toxins in our environment can prevent proper facial growth and development. It’s no wonder that we’re seeing increasing rates of ADHD, autism, and various other developmental delays. These are the same kids that will go on the develop high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease later in adulthood.
You could argue that having bad teeth is a consequence of the particular population that we serve, but knowing what we know about the importance of proper jaw development and dental health, it’s likely that poor dental issues also predisposes people to chronic medical problems.