Commentary - A New Year's resolution for a healthy mouth
By Daniel E. Rose, DDS, first-vice-president, Minnesota Dental Association, Pillager, MN
As we enter the new year with so many good intentions, I would like to invite everyone to add one more resolution to their list: improved oral health. As a practicing dentist in Pillager, I see firsthand the effects lack of regular dental care can have on the overall health and well-being of so many people. If you want to feel good, stay healthy, and look great throughout your life, you might be surprised what a difference a healthy mouth makes.
Whether you are 8 or 80, your oral health is very important. If cared for properly, your teeth can last a lifetime. Losing your teeth is not inevitable, as it was for many in previous generations. However, your mouth changes as you age, so being vigilant throughout your lifetime and having regular dental check-ups to detect any early signs of dental disease is critical to maintaining a healthy mouth and healthy body. Some 100 million Americans fail to see a dentist each year, even though regular dental exams, combined with good oral hygiene, can prevent most dental diseases.
Dental care, of course, should begin at an early age, beginning with an infant dental exam within six months of tooth eruption and no later than 12 months of age. You can begin brushing your infant's teeth as soon as they appear with a pea-size amount of toothpaste, and you should always limit sugary and starchy foods and sugary drinks. In particular, never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, juice or sweetened liquids. "Baby bottle tooth decay" can occur when sugary liquids remain on teeth for long periods.
With all the advances in dental care today, it is a sad fact that cavities remain the most prevalent chronic disease of childhood. And, while it is preventable, children often end up in the hospital as a result of untreated pain and infection. Please don't let your child be one of them. By taking some simple precautions, including brushing twice a day, flossing, and eating a healthy balanced diet, children can maintain healthy teeth, and a happy smile, for life. And be sure your child drinks plenty of water with fluoride to protect their teeth against tooth decay. Children can expect to keep their teeth for a lifetime, so start them off on the right track with good oral health habits and regular visits to your dentist.
Today we know that there are associations between oral health and overall health and that physicians are beginning to work more closely with dentists to monitor the health of their patients. Dentists are a critical part of a patient's healthcare team, in that they are often the first ones to detect changes in a patient's oral condition that can signify overall health problems. People with diabetes, for instance, have a greater chance of developing gum disease, at a rate three to four times higher than people without diabetes. And, untreated, gum disease can lead to a breakdown of gum tissue and bone that may eventually result in teeth becoming loose or falling out. The good news is that your dentist may detect early stages of gum disease during regular exams and treatments are available to help stop the progression.
I urge you to make a resolution today to adopt healthy oral care habits at home and seek regular dental care. You can help your teeth last a lifetime and have a smile you'll be proud of.