THE SECRET LIFE INSIDE YOUR PARTNER'S MOUTH

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Section: newsstand
Your partner may be sharing a highly infectious and contagious disease with you and you don't even know it.

It's a disease that:

• often shows no symptoms until it is well advanced

• 85 percent of the population has or have had

• released cytokines in turn tax the body's immune system

• is linked to heart disease, damaged heart valves, stroke, diabetes, respiratory infections and low birth weights in infants

• is caused by about a dozen bacteria that live in the mouth.

It's called periodontal disease.

The bacteria that cause periodontal disease are breeding right now in the cozy, moist, acidic environment of your (or your partner's) mouth. The areas between the teeth are particularly good breeding grounds because the bacteria are anaerobic (thrive in the absence of oxygen).

A dentist can diagnose the disease in the early stages, prior to individuals realizing they have it. Because so many people have some degree of the disease and it is contagious, it is extremely important that you and your partner get regular dental checkups.

Periodontal disease is controlled by a disciplined and meticulous oral cleaning regimen, both at the dental office and at home. Professional treatment may require below the gum line scraping, three-month checkups instead of the traditional six-month, and a prescription oral rinse. Home treatment requires thorough plaque removal by brushing and flossing at least twice a day. Because it is a laborious task to floss, most people don't. Yet to prevent and control periodontal disease, flossing is extremely important. Oral irrigators can't cut through plaque's sticky biofilm.

More tools are available to keep teeth and gums healthier than in the past. Electric toothbrushes like Sonicare or Oral-B, oral irrigators like the Waterpick, tongue scrapers, oral disinfectants and even a new device, Dental Air Force (www.dentalairforce.com) that combines brushing and flossing, are available. By using air, the Dental Air Force also has an added benefit of aerating the sites between teeth, changing the environment and making it difficult for the bacteria to grow.

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