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Don’t neglect your oral health

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August 10th, 2016

Oral health and good dental care play an important but often overlooked role in your health and well-being. Through self-care and dentist’s visits, you can prevent gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis) and tooth decay, which are leading causes of tooth loss. Despite this, only two out of three adults have seen a dentist in the past year.

The risks of gum disease and tooth loss increase as we age and are associated with poor nutrition, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. In one research study, gum disease was found to be a predictor of cognitive decline and impairment. Clearly, taking care of your teeth plays a meaningful and important role in your general health.

Another significant contributor to gum disease is dry mouth, medically known as xerostomia. This condition affects about one-third of people over age 65, and 40% of people over age 80. Medication may contribute to the problem, and it also occurs more commonly in people with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Dry mouth can lead to cavities, mouth ulcers, and make chewing and swallowing difficult, which can put your nutritional status at risk. 

Treating dry mouth

One of the best ways to treat dry mouth is to sip noncarbonated and nonflavored water throughout your day. Beverages containing significant amounts of sugar, caffeine, or alcohol can have a drying effect. Some mouth rinses help alleviate dry mouth, and chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy can stimulate saliva flow. Some research shows that citrus-, cinnamon-, or mint-flavored candies may work best.

Whether or not you have a dry mouth, keeping your teeth clean is very important. Flossing and brushing, however, may be more difficult than it used to be. Your visual acuity may have diminished, or arthritis may interfere with flexibility. Rotating or oscillating toothbrushes can help, and dental picks might be easier to use than traditional floss. You are not off the hook with mouth care if you have partial or full dentures. You still need to brush your gums and tongue to stimulate circulation, reduce irritation, and remove plaque.

Now more than ever, you should see a dentist every six months. Dental x-rays can help catch tooth and gum disease early, and a detailed examination of your mouth can aid in early detection of problems such as cavities, ulcers, or oral cancers. Like your doctor, your dentist needs to know all your medications, so bring your list to every visit. 

Please remember those pearly whites when you think about your health. Good oral health has been shown to improve quality of life by reducing pain, improving self-esteem, and making it easier to eat and socialize. Prevention will lead to overall better health and maybe even a few more smiles!

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