By Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD

“Brush your teeth!” How many times did your parents remind you to do that? We thought it was because they wanted us to have healthy teeth then and for the rest of our lives. Truth be told, our parents might not have realized how the health of our teeth impacts our overall health, as children, as adults, and as seniors.

Recent evidence links excellent gum tissue health to a reduction in atherosclerosis—a major contributor to coronary disease. Artherosclerosis is the thickening of arteries through the accretion of calcium, cholesterol and other substances found in the bloodstream. This condition has been linked to fatal cardiovascular complications like coronary heart disease and peripheral arterial disease.

According to the findings from researchers from the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, flossing, brushing and regular trips to the dentist can slow the rate of atherosclerosis.

According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 700,000 people each year—1/4 of all recorded fatalities. On average, deaths and illnesses associated with coronary heart disease cost the U.S $219 billion annually.

Simply put, brushing twice a day for a minimum of two minutes, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist at his/her recommended interval (which can vary depending on each patient’s needs) can protect you from the devastating results of heart disease.

An added benefit is that many dentists, including my practice, conduct oral cancer screenings as part of their annual examinations. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 54,000 people in the US will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2022.

Oral cancers can be genetic, but primarily people who smoke or use other tobacco products, drink alcohol or are exposed to the HPV-16 virus (human papilloma virus version 16), are at increased risk for developing the disease. As it is with any cancer, the earlier you detect it, the faster you can treat it. When found at early stages of development, oral cancers have an 80 to 90 % survival rate. Unfortunately, the majority are found as late-stage cancers, and this accounts for the very high death rate of about 43% at five years from diagnosis, and high treatment-related morbidity in survivors.

These issues alone make oral hygiene imperative for seniors, including regular dental appointments. Unfortunately, some seniors do not get to the dentist, largely due to finances, as Medicare/Medicaid does not include dental. Fortunately, many practices now offer their own plans where, for a nominal annual fee—ranging in the $200-$400 area—seniors can get two annual checkups, X rays, and other services.

As seniors, we must take care of ourselves. Fortunately, your oral health is something that is very much in your power to maintain. If you’re already taking care of your teeth, keep up the good work. If you could do a little better, there’s no time like the present and the benefits of your self-care could save your life.

Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD is the owner of The Toothboss, 1121 Main Street, South Weymouth, MA. For more information, call 781-335-0604 or visit