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Stony Brook's leading expert on oral health, Maria Emanuel Ryan, DDS, PhD, not only talks about what you can do to maintain optimal oral health but also underscores the surprising connection between oral health and overall health.

What is the connection between oral health and overall health?

Recent studies clearly show that oral health is a key factor in optimal overall health. Oral diseases can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and diabetes. In fact, periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can have a huge impact on how well you can control diabetes because periodontal disease has been linked with insulin resistance. This means that no matter how hard you work on managing your diabetes, you will not be able to control your blood sugar levels until you take care of any existing oral disease.

How do you know if you have periodontal disease?

Although some signs of oral disease include bleeding gums, bad breath and teeth that move or shift, the majority of people have no symptoms. Untreated periodontal disease can lead to infection and inflammation that can easily travel through the bloodstream into other parts of the body. This is why screening and prevention are so important. General guidelines recommend brushing teeth twice daily, flossing once a day, and perhaps using an antiseptic rinse. Just as important is to be screened by a dentist at least once a year. Those at higher risk for oral diseases, such as smokers and people with diabetes, might need to see a dentist every three to four months. Your dentist will help you set the appropriate screening/treatment schedule for your health status. It is also key that children begin dental visits in their first year of life and are screened often, not so much for periodontal disease but for dental caries (cavities). New York State has implemented a law mandating a “Dental Health Certificate” for all children grades pre-K and above.

What distinguishes Stony Brook’s approach?

At Stony Brook, we are at the forefront of recognizing the impact of oral health on overall health. We screen for oral disease and provide necessary dental treatment before patients undergo cardiac surgery. We also examine all patients for signs of head and neck disease including oral cancers. In addition we provide preventive services, diagnose and treat oral complications that arise from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

Stony Brook offers several specialty dental services including the Dental Care for the Developmentally Disabled program and a dental phobia clinic for people who are afraid of dental care. Our Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine has a Dental Care Center that offers dental care at affordable rates, as well as free oral cancer screenings, free screenings for children, and in the near future, a mobile dental van to bring affordable dental services to people across Long Island.

For more information, call (631) 632-8889.

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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.