Poor oral hygiene can impact our physical, mental well-being (via @PokJournal)

13 Jan

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Most of us don’t realize to what extent tooth decay, gum disease and poor oral hygiene can impact our physical and mental well-being.

Tooth decay is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. Nearly a third of Americans have untreated tooth decay and most adults show signs of gum disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventiontoothaches are the most common pain of the mouth or face reported by adults. Severe gum disease  affects 14 percent of adults ages 45 to 54.

Periodontal disease has been associated with a number of systemic illnesses, including diseases of the heart and lungs, and poor pregnancy outcomes, such as prematurity and low birth weight. Diabetics  are also at increased risk for periodontal infections. Chronic conditions such as jaw joint diseases and osteoporosis can be disabling and contribute to depression. Oral cancers are common in adults over the age of 55 who smoke and are heavy drinkers. Employed adults in the United States lose more than 164 million hours of work each year as a result of oral health problems or dental visits.

Many dental diseases in adults can be traced to dental neglect during childhood. Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic illnesses among children, and is often associated with eating too many sweets and bad brushing habits. Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma  among adolescents ages 14 to 17. Many children, especially children from low-income families, unnecessarily suffer from dental disease because of inadequate dental care and lack of access to dental services. According to the New York State Department of Health, an estimated 51 million school hours per year are lost in the U.S. because of dental-related illness. Poor oral health and dental disease in children have been associated with decreased school performance and poor social relationships, and can have far-reaching consequences later in life.

Elderly people who grew up during the depression and World War II lacking proper nutrition and access to dental care are now experiencing serious health problems and nutritional challenges because of toothlessness. Dentures are not as efficient as natural teeth for chewing food, and people with dentures who rely on soft foods may not eat enough proteins or fruits and vegetables. Vitamin supplements can be difficult to swallow and cause nausea, and a lack in dietary fiber can impact digestive tract transit and aggravate constipation, common concerns in the elderly. Also, dental care is expensive and insurance coverage inadequate, especially for older adults who may not be able to afford dental implants and other tooth-saving procedures.

Tooth decay and gum disease  are largely preventable. Practicing good oral hygiene will help you maintain your oral health. Careful brushing and regular flossing prevent dental plaque and periodontal disease. It is important to visit your dentist regularly for preventive care throughout your lifetime. We recommend you first bring your child to the dentist between the ages of 6 months and 1 year, and then routinely thereafter. Giving children too many foods and drinks with high sugar content not only places the child at risk for early childhood tooth decay, but also encourages unhealthy eating habits and contributes to obesity. There is no such thing as a “sweet tooth.” Sugar is simply addictive, and limiting sugar intake to fruits and complex carbohydrates prevents cravings and protects your teeth.

Fluoride plays an important role in oral health and is often referred to as “nature’s cavity fighter,” as it helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay can be seen. Since fluoride is not added to drinking water in Dutchess County, it is important for families to consult their dentists and pediatricians about alternate sources of fluoride, such as rinses, toothpastes and topical applications. School-based sealant programs are also very effective in reducing tooth decay. An oral health survey of third grade children in Dutchess County showed a 64 percent improvement in tooth decay in children taking fluoride tablets regularly, and an 84 percent improvement with dental sealants, when comparing data from 2002-2004 and 2009-2011. School-based sealant programs  provide for children of low-income households and minorities unlikely to otherwise receive these treatments.

Please consult your dentist  and school for information about these programs.

Dr. Kari Reiber is the interim health commissioner for the Dutchess County Department of Health. Supervising Public Health Nurse  Tara Fitzpatrick and Dutchess County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Dennis Chute contributed to this article.

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