While you might think that your oral health only matters when it comes to keeping your teeth and gums strong, a growing amount of research has shown that an individual’s oral and physical health are connected.
Studies have found strong connections suggesting that problems with oral health have links to a variety of chronic health concerns, including pneumonia, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Recognizing that connection, it becomes even more imperative that patients maintain their oral health in order to protect their overall health.
The majority of oral health problems occur as a result of inflammation around an individual’s teeth and gums caused by bacteria. While this bacteria contributes to the development of gum disease and tooth decay, the resulting inflammation can spread throughout the body where studies have found links between inflammation and stroke and heart disease. So what begins as an oral problem can quickly transform into a very serious health concern in another part of the body.
Over a decade ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a first of its kind report on the state of oral health in America. The study found that oral disease was prevalent across the country and should be considered a very serious threat to the nation’s health as a whole. For certain population groups, the report described the lack of quality oral health as a “silent epidemic.”
Now, more than 10 years later, poor oral health still remains rampant and devastating to the nation’s health. Tooth decay ranks as one of the most common childhood diseases – five times more common than asthma – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, children are only one group of several groups vulnerable to the affects of poor oral health. Women who are pregnant, individuals with special needs and the elderly – 70 percent of which don’t have dental health insurance – are also at high risk.
Improving Oral Heath Requires Overcoming Barriers
Social, cultural and economic obstacles – in addition to a lack of affordable health insurance and dental anxiety – prevent many patients from receiving the oral care the need. Even transportation issues present obstacles, especially for individuals living in rural communities that feature fewer dental practices.
A lack of suitable dental coverage, for example, is one of the main reasons why dental-related emergency room visits reach a record 2.1 million in 2010. Unfortunately, these types of visits rarely provide patients with the kind of long-term treatment they need, but rather serve as a temporary fix at helping to control pain or infection. The underlying oral problem that caused the visit remains uncorrected.
Studies have also shown that poor oral care is often due to a lack of awareness, as many people were never taught at a young age about the importance of brushing and flossing daily or the need to schedule regular dental checkups. Good oral health requires a solid educational process that must start at a young age, and includes instilling quality lifestyle habits and the need for a balanced diet.
What our Tigard dental patients should keep in mind and what the country’s population as a whole needs to better understand is that dental problems such as gum disease, plaque and cavities can be easily prevented. The basics to ensuring quality oral health is to brush and floss twice daily and scheduling dental visits at least twice a year. Make these commitments and you can greatly reduce your risk for not only oral health problems, but a variety of serious health problems, as well.