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Are Your Gums Making You Sick?

The link between oral and physical health, and how comprehensive dentistry can help.

When most people think of a dental visit, a routine teeth cleaning, fillings, and root canals may come to mind. What you may not think about, but should start, is the link between your oral and physical health.

The oral cavity acts as a window to the rest of your health, says Dr. Mark Sowell, a cosmetic dentist with Sensational Smiles in Plano. Gum disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers. “The plaque in your mouth is the same plaque that can clog your arteries,” Dr. Sowell says. “The bacteria from the gums enters into your bloodstream and can impact your health in a variety of ways.”

Gum disease can also affect how you breathe and sleep—which ultimately affects your health as well. Evaluating airway quality is another important aspect of an oral exam. “During sleep, your body repairs itself,” Dr. Sowell says. “If you’re not getting into deep, or REM, sleep because of a compromised airway, your body suffers. Your brain and body aren’t being repaired and rejuvenated each night. I always look for airway resistance because there is a link between it and periodontal disease, TMJ, and gastroesophageal reflux disease. As a comprehensive dentist with a turnkey practice, I have a unique opportunity to screen my patients for potential health problems and pick up on underlying things they can follow up on with their doctor simply by looking inside their mouth.”

The oral cavity acts as a window to the rest of your health, says Dr. Mark Sowell, a cosmetic dentist with Sensational Smiles in Plano. Gum disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers.

Optimizing both oral and systemic health can be accomplished by changing the environment of the mouth. This could include raising the PH level of the mouth, so bacteria won’t form in a low-acidic environment and correcting the moisture level in the mouth. “We want the good and bad bacteria in balance with each other,” Dr. Sowell says. “The importance between gum disease and an oral systemic link came out about fifteen years ago, and more information is continually being discovered. This isn’t something that is taught in dental school but what experienced dentists who specialize in comprehensive dentistry often offer. There is so much more to dentistry than making your teeth pretty.”

Dr. Sowell offers turnkey, comprehensive care to all his patients, whether they see him for veneers, a gum lift, or complete smile makeover. It starts with analyzing the overall health of the mouth, correcting periodontal problems, and then progresses to the reason they came to see him in the first place—fixing their teeth. It’s not just about a Hollywood smile, but how well the teeth function.  “Your bite matters,” Dr. Sowell says. “We can make the teeth beautiful, but if the bite is off, they could be at risk for breaking off again, putting you right back where you started. It’s important the bite is designed so the porcelain is protected and the work holds up for a long time. This requires a lot of planning and engineering—a critical aspect of quality cosmetic dentistry.”

Dr. Sowell performs all cosmetic procedures himself, such as placing veneers and implants, bone grafts, and gum lifts, so that patients don’t have to go from place to place to get their desired smile. “It’s a nice change of pace when your dentist is the quarterback trained to do all of these things,” he says. “We focus on our patients’ long- term health. Our goal for them is to have a beautiful smile and a healthy body 20 and 30 years from now. We begin with the end in mind.”

Once oral health is well established, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff—loving your smile. Many of Dr. Sowell’s patients are pleasantly surprised to learn that not only will their smile improve with cosmetic dentistry, they will likely look younger as well.

Once oral health is well established, it’s time to move on to the fun stuff—loving your smile. Many of Dr. Sowell’s patients are pleasantly surprised to learn that not only will their smile improve with cosmetic dentistry, they will likely look younger as well. Think of it as plastic surgery without the face-lift. According to Dr. Sowell, the brain automatically connects the size and color of the teeth with age because teeth become discolored as we get older and are worn down by grinding, chewing, and wear and tear. “The brain tells us that someone with a bright, white smile and larger teeth is a 40-year-old person, not a 50-year-old,” Dr. Sowell says. “Studies have shown that people assume someone with a smile makeover is at least ten years younger.”

The key to getting the healthy and beautiful smile you want is choosing the right cosmetic dentist. This is an industry where skill, technique and an artistic eye matter. Laboratory machines can churn out “one-size-fits-all” stamped veneers, but these results are often unsatisfactory. “If you need just one or two veneers, this may be an option, but a machine can’t make more than three or four teeth a time,” Dr. Sowell says. “If you want your teeth to look natural, the work has to be done by an artist. The size, shape, and symmetry of the teeth are critical for best results.”

When choosing a cosmetic dentist, consider the following tips for the best results.

  • Ask about the dentist’s approach to comprehensive care. The dentist should be just as concerned about your oral and overall health as the final result of your smile makeover.
  • Look at samples of their work. Ask to see before-and-after photos of 20 or more cases similar to yours. “Anyone can do one nice case out of ten—let’s see twenty or thirty cases with a consistent pattern and finished result,” Dr. Sowell says.
  • Pay attention to how you are treated in the office, and talk to other patients about their experiences. Make sure the dentist is really listening to you. If you have a very specific request, a dentist who specializes in only one style of teeth or is only as good as his or her ceramist may not be the right choice.
  • Make sure you will get a wax-up and trial run with a first set of teeth you can wear for a few days to try out before you receive the final product. You want to know what your smile will look like while you wear the prototype so adjustments can be made, if needed.
  • Experience matters. Ask about the dentist’s professional accreditations, memberships, and certification.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Mark Sowell has served the community by providing state-of-the-art dental care. He is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of cosmetic dentistry, implant dentistry, and restorative dentistry. Because of his relentless commitment to excellence in all aspects of dental care, Dr. Sowell is often asked to lecture to other dentists and attends over 100 hours of rigorous postdoctoral training each year. Dr. Sowell is a member of an elite group of dentists who have achieved both Master status with the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) and Accredited Membership with the prestigious American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Fewer than 40 dentists nationwide have earned both of these professional distinctions. While these recognitions illustrate Dr. Sowell’s dedication to providing the best that dentistry has to offer, he has achieved numerous other merits in the field of dentistry.

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