When visiting the dentist you may be surprised to know that there is much more at stake than a cavity-free smile. Often, people see their dentist more frequently than their primary care physician, making dentists the first line of defense for identifying many systemic diseases including respiratory disease, oral cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
If you are setting New Year’s goals or thinking about making healthier lifestyle changes this year, why not make one about your oral health as well? A healthier mouth can lead to additional good habits and an overall healthier you. Healthy resolutions can also vastly improve your overall lifestyle and well-being.
Here are five easy tips you can maintain to keep your oral and overall health on track:
1. Brush/floss regularly: The daily ritual of brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing once is still the foundation for maintaining healthy teeth and gums. The sooner you brush following a meal, the better. The longer food stays stuck to your teeth, the more acid is produced that erodes tooth enamel.
2. Visit your dentist in 2014: Dentists do more than just check and clean teeth. They can also check for signs of serious health problems like oral cancers, diabetes, hypertension and gum disease, answer questions and provide advice and alert patients to signs of potential medical conditions.
3. Eat sweets in moderation: Tooth decay occurs when candy, cookies, sodas and other sweets, or simple carbohydrates like those in chips or crackers, mix with bacteria in the sticky plaque that forms on teeth to produce acid, which can destroy tooth enamel and lead to cavities.
4. Avoid tobacco products: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of the cases of severe gum disease in U.S. adults can be attributed to cigarette smoking, and the prevalence of gum disease is three times higher among smokers than non-smokers. Consuming products like cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco is arguably the single most destructive oral health habit.
5. Wear a mouth guard during contact sports: It’s not just kids who play contact sports these days. Millions of adults participate in competitive sports leagues in which there can be significant risk of contact. Mouth guards absorb and distribute the forces that impact the mouth, teeth, face and jaw when an athlete takes a shot to the face. Wearing a mouth guard can prevent chipped, fractured, displaced or dislodged teeth, fractured or displaced jaws and lacerations to the lips and mouth that result from the edges of the teeth.
At your next dental appointment, try to think about your dentist the same way you do your physician. Inform your dentist of any health issues you’re dealing with or medications you are taking. Some medication can lead to dry mouth and can negatively impact your oral health.
Dental visits are an unrealized opportunity to find warning signs that can save your life. Luckily, it can be as easy as saying ‘ahhh.’
Dr. Ron Inge is vice president and dental director for Delta Dental of Washington and executive director of the Institute for Oral Health.
Top Photo: “Smile,” ©2013 Rory McLeod, used under a creative commons attribution license.