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The relationship between good oral hygiene and a healthy body might not be immediately evident, but dentists say thorough, proper flossing, brushing and professional teeth cleaning can help those with chronic illnesses ward off infection.

"It's easy to get an infection elsewhere if you do get bacteria into the bloodstream," Decatur dentist Dr. James Blocher said.

Poor oral hygiene has been associated with heart problems and infections in those with diabetes or artificial joints, Blocher said. But aside from the problem of bacteria from the mouth entering the bloodstream and causing infection elsewhere in the body, gum disease takes a toll on a person's ability to fight off illness.

"If you're fighting an infection where you have pus beneath the gums and swollen gums, it's going to tax the immune system," Decatur dentist Dr. Warren Jesek said.

Some older patients have medications that cause dryness in their mouths, which can lead to root problems and a higher susceptibility to infection, Jesek said. Proper attention to hygiene and a diet low in sugary foods can help seniors avoid infections that can lead to bad breath, bone loss or loss of teeth.

He recommended that people living with chronic health problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes see their dentists for cleaning and maintenance on a more frequent basis. Jesek sees patients who fall into this category for their regular cleanings every three months instead of the recommended six.

He also emphasized that women who are or could become pregnant pay special attention to their oral hygiene, as a connection has been identified between mothers with periodontal disease and babies with low birth weight.

For guidelines on proper oral hygiene and information on the connection between oral health and overall wellness, visit the American Dental Association Web site at www.ada.org.

Annie Getsinger can be reached at agetsinger@herald-review.com or 421-6968.

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