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October is National Dental Hygiene Month

Image of Margo KerriganMargo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

Good oral hygiene is essential for healthy gums and teeth and is important at all ages. Oral health needs change as we get older.

Infant and Child Oral Health:
Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting 50 of children by age 5 and nearly 75 of third graders. Rates for Native Americans children are considerably higher, with estimates ranging from 79-95 of nine year olds. Cavity prevention is not the only concern parents should have when considering their childrens oral health. Chronic gingivitis is also common among children. Gingivitis is a mild form of periodontal disease often caused by inadequate oral hygiene.

Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when a child falls asleep with a bottle of milk, juice or other liquid [excluding water]. It can also occur when children fall asleep breastfeeding. It is now recommended that your child visit the dentist prior to the first birthday. It is especially important limit the amount and frequency of sugar children consume. Also limit snacking between meals and encourage healthy snacks like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Adolescent Oral Health:
Dental decay and periodontal disease can be a threat to teens, in fact 75 of teens have bleeding gums. Adolescents also have particular issues including oral piercing, mouthguards, eating disorders and orthodontic care, as well as significant rates of dental decay. Piercing, tattoos and decorative grills can cause many complications. The metal can cause allergic reactions and may harbor bacteria that cause an infection. Eating disorders are fairly common in teens, and these disorders can create oral facial complications including; enamel erosion, increased cavities, enlarged salivary glands, sensitive teeth, dry mouth and infections at the corners of the mouth.

Adult Oral Health:
Periodontal disease is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. An estimated 75 of Americans have some form of periodontal disease. Early detection of periodontal disease reduces the risk of permanent damage to teeth and gums. Regular professional visits are important because gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal disease, is usually painless; you may not be able to detect it on your own.

Senior Oral Health:
Almost 40 of the older adult population suffers some form of tooth loss. Seniors face a range of special oral concerns, including root decay and periodontal disease. Dentures, either full or partial, require special care; they should be brushed inside and out and rinsed with cool water. Remaining natural teeth, especially those supporting a partial denture, should also be thoroughly brushed and flossed.

No matter what your age, good oral hygiene habits are essential to maintain overall health. Routine dental examinations will not only help to keep teeth and gums healthy, but may allow early detection of serious systemic disease.

Research has shown a potential link between oral health care and systemic disease. There is mounting evidence of the relationship between oral bacteria and systemic diseases such as oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Oral bacteria have also been associated with premature labor in pregnant women, and low birth-weight babies.

Oral Cancer:
Oral cancer is a major cause of death; over 300,000 people were diagnosed with oral cancers with nearly 8,000 predicted deaths. Almost 75 of all oral cavity and pharyngeal cancers are attributable to the use of tobacco products. Studies have also linked chronic alcohol use to oral cancer; when combined with tobacco use the risk greatly multiplies. If detected early, 90 of oral cancers can be treated successfully. The oral cancer screening is one of the most critical components of a routine dental exam.

Cardiovascular Disease:
Heart disease affects nearly 60 million Americans each year, killing nearly one million. Studies have demonstrated a link between cardiovascular disease and some of the bacterium in periodontal disease. It is important to diagnose periodontal disease early and treat it aggressively so its impact on heart disease can be reduced or eliminated.

Native Americans suffer from diabetes at rates that exceed the national average. 95 of people with diabetes have periodontal disease. Severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar, contributing to increased periods of time when the body functions with a high blood sugar. This puts diabetics at increased risk for diabetic complications. Thus, diabetics who have periodontal disease should be treated to eliminate the periodontal infection.

Premature birth:
Studies have shown that mothers with periodontal disease are up to seven times more likely to deliver premature, low birth-weight babies. Researchers believe that the inflammation associated with periodontal disease may trigger an increase in labor- inducing fluids leading to premature birth.

Other Diseases:
Signs of diseases such as osteoporosis, anorexia nervosa, bulimia and HIV often first appear in the mouth and may be detected during a routine oral health examination.

For more information:

American Dental Association www.ada.org Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

American Public Health Association www.apha.org Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

American Dental Hygienists Association [ADHA] www.adha.org Exit Disclaimer – You Are Leaving www.ihs.gov

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