Doctors' Notes

Why Good Dental Health Matters

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


Question:  I have been having a lot of dental issues lately and my coworker told me that this could affect my health. Is this true?  Is dental health really important for our overall health?

Dr. Karla says:

Your co-worker is definitely on to something.  Dental hygiene is an area of our health that is often times overlooked and taken for granted.  This is particularly true in our community.  It is estimated that among adults aged 35-44 in the Black community, 40 percent have tooth decay. Unfortunately, this may be affecting much more than just our smile, as increasing research has shown a significant link between oral health and overall physical health.

There is now increasing evidence that poor dental health may in fact be linked to poor diabetes control. The theory is that without regular dental care, bacteria build up on the teeth over time, thus leading to infection of the gums.  This ongoing state of infection can cause chronic inflammation, making it very difficult to keep blood sugars under control.  Maintaining one’s dental health can certainly help to keep blood sugars in the normal range.

Oral hygiene is also thought to be a factor in premature childbirth. While the link is still being investigated, it is thought that chronic gum infection and inflammation may trigger preterm labor. This is a huge area of research and significantly impacts our community as Black women have higher rates of premature birth than other women.  In fact, it is recommended that all pregnant women or those considering pregnancy have a full dental exam to assess their oral health.

Dr. Rob says:

Gum disease has also been linked to heart disease, the leading cause of death in our community. Although not very well understood, the thought is that inflammation of the gums triggers inflammation in other parts of the body, including the areas of the heart.  As Black men, we have the highest death rates from heart disease, and we need to ensure that we are eliminating the risk factors we can control.

In addition to tooth and gum disease, an oral exam is important in screening for other diseases.  African American men have the highest incidence of mouth and throat cancers in this country when compared to other groups.  A complete oral health exam would inspect the mouth for any lumps, sores, red or white patches or any other abnormalities that may be suggestive of poor oral health.

Studies show that less than 30 percent of African American adults have annual dental exams and 1 in 4 of our preschool aged children have tooth decay.  While there has been increasing dialogue about the need to improve our overall health as a result of the healthcare reform debate, let’s not forget the importance of improving our oral health.  It just may save our lives.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on twitter @urbanhousecall!