The Importance of Oral and Dental Health
People often take their oral and dental health for granted. While most people make it a point to remind their children about the importance of keeping their teeth clean and strong, many adults forget to take care of their own mouths and teeth healthy. Tooth decay is not only a problem therefore, of children and adolescents, but also among adults. Surveys show that bout one out of four elderly individuals have lost all their teeth. Furthermore, up to 12% of adults have serious gum problems, most especially among smokers.
Oral health is important because it enhances our ability to smile, speak, and make facial expressions relevant to our feelings or emotions. It also improves our sense of taste and smell, and helps us chew, swallow, and enjoy our food. Keeping the mouth, gums and teeth healthy are not only important to oral and dental health, but also to overall health. Research by experts of the American Heart Association recently showed that the risk of heart attack and stroke may be reduced by having professional dental care. A study involving over 100,000 people who were followed for about 7 years found that professional dental cleaning, when done regularly, led to 24% less risk of having a heart attack and 13% less likelihood of having a stroke. Research suggests that clogging of arteries, heart disease and stroke may be linked to inflammation and infection resulting from the growth of oral bacteria.
Other health conditions that may be affected by oral and dental health include:
- Endocarditis, or infection of the inner lining of the heart, which may occur when bacteria from the mouth spreads through the bloodstream and damages areas of the heart.
- Diabetes, because research shows that gum disease may affect one’s ability to control blood sugar levels. On the other hand, diabetes also reduces your resistance to infection, including oral infections.
- Osteoporosis, which is linked to tooth loss and periodontal bone loss.
- Alzheimer’s disease, which has been linked to early tooth loss (before the age of 35)
- HIV/AIDS, which is associated with painful mucosal lesions.
- Eating disorders, which may be related to poor oral health
- Other conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune system disorder characterized by dry mouth.
Aside from gum problems, dental carries and other dental issues, your oral health may also be disrupted by canker sores, which may develop in the mouth, lips and throat. These small, painful ulcers may cause fever and difficulty in eating. Canker sores are the most common type of mouth lesions, which affects about 20% of the population, mostly women. Susceptibility to develop canker sore may be inherited, and can run in families. Aside from these, other factors may also increase you risk of having canker sores. These include injuries to the mouth caused by vigorous brushing of the teeth, having dental work, dentures or braces, eating acidic foods, having food allergies or sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, smoking and emotional stress. Although canker sores are often self-limiting and will heal even without specific treatments, they often cause pain and difficulty in eating. Some people are also prone to develop these sores frequently and may need medical attention.
General Tips in Maintaining Oral and Dental Health
Oral health problems can cost a lot. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Americans make about 500 million visits to their dentists yearly. They also found that US dental services cost about $110 billion in 2010. Aside from dental health, other factors can influence oral health, such as nutrition, hygiene and lifestyle habits. The good news, however, is that most oral and dental health problems are preventable.
Simple preventive measures can help ensure oral and dental health. Water fluoridation, for example, is a cost-effective way of reducing the incidence of tooth decay among residents of a community. School-based programs can also help promote dental health among children by monitoring their oral hygiene and applying dental sealants to protect their teeth.
Adults can maintain good oral health by following these simple measures:
- Daily oral care – Using a toothbrush with soft bristles, brush your teeth and gums at least two times a day with toothpaste containing fluoride.
- Floss between your teeth daily.
- Drink fluoridated water regularly.
- Use a new toothbrush every 3-4 months.
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid unhealthy snacks that contain a lot of starches and sugars.
- Visit your dentist for regular professional care, which is important in the early detection of dental health problems as well as pre-cancerous or cancerous oral lesions.
- Take care of your dentures by keeping them clean and well fit. Ill-fitting dentures can irritate the inside of your cheeks, tongue, or gums. Remove them before sleeping.
- Quit smoking.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- If you are using medications give you a dry mouth, talk to your doctor and dentist about it.
- For elderly individuals who are unable to take good care of their oral hygiene, caregivers must help ensure that they get proper oral care daily.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Mayo Clinic. What conditions may be linked to oral health?http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/dental/art-20047475?pg=2
Samadi, D. Dental hygiene important for whole body, not just your smile. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/03/28/dental-hygiene-important-for-whole-body-not-just-your-smile/
CDC. The Burden of Oral Disease. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/doh.htm.
Arizona Department of Health Services. Office of Oral health: Adults and Seniors. http://www.azdhs.gov/phs/owch/oral-health/adult-senior.htm