Oral health and hygiene play a vital role in the overall health of children and adults. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), oral health has been linked with chronic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. It is also linked with risk behaviors like using tobacco and eating and drinking foods and beverages high in sugar.
Children’s Oral Health
Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood in the United States. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t.
According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics:
• About 1 of 5 (20 percent) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
• 1 of 7 (13 percent) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years has at least one untreated decayed tooth.
• Children aged 5 to 19 years from low-income families are twice as likely (25 percent) to have cavities, compared with children from higher-income households (11 percent).
The good news is that cavities are preventable. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews states that fluoride varnish can prevent about one-third (33 percent) of cavities in the primary (baby) teeth. Therefore, children who brush daily with fluoride toothpaste will have fewer cavities.
Dental sealants can also prevent cavities for many years. The Cochrane Review also showed applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth prevent 80 percent of cavities.
Lastly, children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water is not fluoridated as discovered by the Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF).
Dental hygiene tips for babies:
• Wipe gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth in the morning after the first feeding and right before bed to wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities.
• When teeth come in, start brushing twice a day with a soft, small‑bristled toothbrush and plain water.
• Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday to spot signs of problems early.
• Talk to your dentist or doctor about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears.
Dental hygiene tips for children over two years:
• Brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
• Drink tap water that contains fluoride.
• Ask your child’s dentist to apply dental sealants when appropriate.
Adult’s Oral Health
According to the CDC, the baby boomer generation is the first where the majority of people will keep their natural teeth over their entire lifetime. This is largely because of the benefits of water fluoridation and fluoride toothpaste. However, threats to oral health, including tooth loss, continue throughout life.
The major risks for tooth loss are tooth decay and gum disease that may increase with age because of problems with saliva production; receding gums that expose “softer” root surfaces to decay-causing bacteria; or difficulties flossing and brushing because of poor vision, cognitive problems, chronic disease, and physical limitations.
Oral health problems in adults include the following:
• Untreated tooth decay. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 1 in 4 (27 percent) adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay.
• Gum disease. According to the Journal of Periodontology, nearly half (46 percent) of all adults aged 30 years or older show signs of gum disease; severe gum disease affects about 9 percent of adults.
• Tooth loss. The Vital Health Statistics showed complete tooth loss among adults aged 65-74 years has steadily declined over time, but disparities exist among some population groups. If left untreated, cavities (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease lead to tooth loss.
• Oral cancer. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly in people older than 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers according to the National Cancer Institute.
– People treated for cancer who have chemotherapy may suffer from oral problems such as painful mouth ulcers, impaired taste, and dry mouth.
• Chronic diseases. The Journal of America Dental Association explains having a chronic disease, such as arthritis, heart disease or stroke, diabetes, emphysema, hepatitis C, a liver condition, or being obese may increase an individual’s risk of having missing teeth and poor oral health. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
– Patients with weakened immune systems, such as those infected with HIV and other medical conditions (organ transplants) and who use some medications (e.g., steroids) are at higher risk for some oral problems.
– Chronic disabling diseases such as jaw joint diseases (TMD), autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren’s Syndrome, and osteoporosis affect millions of Americans and compromise oral health and functioning, more often among women.
Dental hygiene tips for adults:
You can keep your teeth for your lifetime. Here are some things you can do to maintain a healthy mouth and strong teeth.
• Drink fluoridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste.
• Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth thoroughly and floss between the teeth to remove dental plaque.
• Visit your dentist on a regular basis, even if you have no natural teeth or have dentures.
• Do not use any tobacco products. If you smoke, quit.
• Limit alcoholic drinks.
• If you have diabetes, work to maintain control of the disease. This will decrease risk for other complications, including gum disease.
• If your medication causes dry mouth, ask your doctor for a different medication that may not cause this condition. If dry mouth cannot be avoided, drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco products and alcohol.
• See your doctor or a dentist if you have sudden changes in taste and smell.
• When acting as a caregiver, help older individuals brush and floss their teeth if they are not able to perform these activities independently.
For more information: Visit the CDC website for more information and resources at www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/.
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